Drinking My Way Down the Runway

I had several hours of Project Runway season 2 on in the background this afternoon and really needed a drink by the time they got to the finale. Sort of like cats on a hot tin runway. I only made it through the first half hour of the finale.

Today's recipe in my calendar was a gin and tonic - finally - which I covered in detailed taste tests a week ago, so I shook up a gin drink from yesterday: gin (I used Gordon's), 2 to 1 dry to sweet vermouth, a few dashes of orange bitters. Sort of like an updated perfect martini.

I'm not a big fan of sweet vermouth with gin, and even only half an ounce like in this drink just doesn't do it for me for whatever reason.

Then, from a few days ago, a gimlet: equal parts gin (Gordon's again) and Rose's lime juice, with juice from a hunk of lime squeezed in. I adore limes and lime juice, but this drink is awfully limey. I can go without vitamin C for a year now and not get a cold.

Orange Trees Up North

Inspired by my trip to Miami and South Beach and all those orange rub-on or take a pill tans, I decided to taste test orange liqueurs tonight.

Not really. I'd been thinking about doing it for a few days. Then this evening I took a cooking class (techniques class actually: knife skills, not throwing them) at the Bloomington Cooking School in beautiful Bloomington, IN. Chef Matt (Irish, but I'll forgive him; he was very good) put an orange compote on some salmon with a hollandaise sauce, and I started to muse, without slicing my finger, which liqueur might kick it up a notch, to coin a phrase.

Moving up in my choice of barware from red Solo cups to paper Sponge Bob cups, the first one I tried was good ol' triple sec. Tastes like an orange gumdrop: very sweet and orangey, though not overpowering. I can see why it goes well in margaritas.

Next was curacao: also sweet, but a very strong rubbing alcohol taste to it, like the orange-flavored cough medicine from my childhood that I had to have poured down my throat. I tried blue curacao too: a slightly different taste and not as much of the cough medicine fumes. Maybe a higher-end curacao wouldn't make me want to rub it on sore muscles.

Then on to the higher-end stuff: Cointreau. Very strong orange flavor, potent liqueur kick but not like curacao, more refined. For what it costs, it should be.

And, of course, Grand Marnier. You can really taste the cognac base in this; of the bunch, it's the only one I'd sip as an after-dinner drink. It's not as overwhelming as the Cointreau and more complex, with all the secret herbal ingredients. And not as cloyingly sweet as the two colors of Chartreuse, which cost even more than Grand Marnier.

Last but not least Mandarin Napoleon. Also cognac based, but you don't taste that as much with this. Very orange color (good ol' dye number 10-31), herbal mix almost more of a Hermione Granger brew than Grand Marnier.

If I were going to put one of these in an orange sauce, say, for duck or my salmon, I'd try the last one first, the Mandarin Napoleon. Second choice would be Cointreau, since I might not want the cognac kick from Grand Marnier. Or even the Triple Sec would work, depending what you're using the sauce for--it would work great for a simple dessert orange sauce.

10,410 Cane Rums

(The title here is a takeoff on an obscure, but great, Jule Styne-Doris Day song, "10,432 Sheep".)

This weekend I've drunk a lot of rum. I mean A LOT. I'm signing up for the British navy in the morning. Billy Budd, c'est moi.

I got in from my trip to South Beach at 2 am Saturday morning. More on that another time. All day Saturday I felt like I needed a vacation to recover from my vacation, so late afternoon I headed for my local liquor emporium.

I was a man on a mission. I was looking for 10 Cane rum's mojito kit. (Of all the drinks I imbibed in SoBe, a mojito wasn't one of them.) I looked first on the mixer shelves, then the odds and ends shelves, then I wandered over to the rum section. No kit. I didn't expect to find it locally.

But I turned around, and voila, there it was, in a nice little free-standing display, maybe a half dozen or so kits. My pal who works there told me they sell a lot of them. $34 and change for a very generous 750 ml bottle of 10 Cane rum (hell, the bottle I've been nursing for the last month or so is only half that size), my favorite, and a quart bottle of sweet lime-mint mixer, both in a sturdy white box that looks like it could have made it to SoBe and back in my carry-on. Supply your favorite club soda.

I saw my sister the travel agent (and I'd booked my trip through Expedia; oh, well) out on their patio, so I grocery store plastic bagged up the mixer kit (with a bottle of club soda and a couple handfuls of extra mint from my herb bed) and trekked over there. I figured she'd be up for a cocktail, even after several bottles of Coors Lite (can you not say yum-o?).

Sure enough. In fact, she said she'd never had a mojito before. So I set to work. Luckily, they had a fresh bag of crushed ice in their freezer and a stainless steel shaker. While I was mixologing, my niece wandered into the kitchen and asked, "Why are those weeds on the counter?" (weeds = mint) Her mom explained what the weeds were and said she could chew on one if she liked. She did and didn't. Well, mint doesn't come with sugar added, my sister said. She's funnier when she's slightly buzzed.

She and my brother-in-law liked the mojitos; they both said they taste like Doublemint. They were a little weak for me, probably too much club soda at the end since I didn't measure it out, just poured it in and stirred. I tasted the mixer while I was making them (NO, I did NOT drink it straight out of the bottle, protesting too much), and it's nicely subtle: a mellow sweet lime, not as sharp or as syrupy as Rose's, and the mint is done with a light hand, floating in the background.

After a couple of those (and she'd never drunk 10 Cane either; she's led a sheltered Lutheran life), we moved on to daiquiris. I'd bought a small bag of limes at the store that morning, so I dragged myself home, Rosa trotting along behind since the brats from the grill were gone and her reason for being there too, and grocery bagged those along with some simple syrup and a knife and a reamer. (Hell, I was lucky they had a cocktail shaker.)

The daiquiris made with 10 Cane were even better. I heard my sister say after I'd taken the first two out to the patio and was mixing mine, "Boy, these are strong." She's used to Applebee's happy hour cocktails. And Coors Lite. But when I took mine outside and tasted it, I agreed--too much like limed-up fire water. I went back in and got the simple syrup and sloshed some into our cups (yes, I confess, I'm back to using my beloved red Solo cups again), and that made all the difference. The daiquiris were really tasty, what a summer cocktail should be.

Today I decided to try an 'authentic' Cuban mojito recipe I found online. The main difference here is using powdered sugar instead of simple syrup, and of course you muddle the mint, lime juice, and sugar. This was OK with the 10 Cane, very minty, maybe a little too much.

Then I gave the 10 Cane kit another go, measuring everything, especially the club soda, out exactly this time, and tossed in a little fresh mint at the end. This was the best mojito of the bunch. Just sweet enough and minty enough and not so much soda that it diluted the rum flavor. A good summer drink. Online somewhere a fellow cocktail blogger says you shouldn't make mojitos from a mix (or when the temperature is under 70-something degrees or after Labor Day and other silly 'rules'), but he obviously hasn't tried 10 Cane's.

And More Gin

Continuing my gin extravaganza of last night (I didn't sleep very well; I wonder why), I jumped ahead a few days in my calendar and stirred up a cocktail with gin (I used Gordon's), lime juice, superfine sugar, and a few wrist jerks of bitters.

I only had about an ounce of lime juice and no intact limes at hand, so I made up the difference with Rose's and skipped the superfine sugar.

Not a bad drink; the bitters gave a different direction to a gin and lime drink. This isn't a drink I'd make every night, but it gives me some ideas about how bitters can be used in other drinks where I wouldn't think to use them.

Do I Smell Like Juniper?

I bought a large bottle of Gordon's to make the citrus punch with a punch for the birthday party I told you about Saturday night. While I was buying supplies, I picked up a bottle of tonic water, my first during this year of drinking for some odd reason. Maybe because my calendar hasn't had any gin and tonic recipes.

So last night I decided to conduct a gin and tonic comparison. The first gin was Gordon's. I used a jigger's worth (ounce and a half) in each, and poured the tonic each time to the same line in my red Solo cup. (Yes, a sophisticated gin and tonic test.) Gordon's was good: it tasted like your classic g&t. I haven't drunk a g&t in ages, and this tasted like what I remembered from my wild youth. Probably el cheapo Gordon's is what most of the bars used.

Second was Tanqueray 10. I'd read a review online a week or so ago that claimed while 10 is good for martinis, the writer thought it was the perfect gin for a g&t. It was OK, and certainly more pronounced than the Gordon's, but with its strong herbal/bay leaf/whatever overtones, it tasted to me like a g&t wishing it was a dirty martini. Just a tad too potent for a g&t. I loved it a week ago when I made an olive martini with it, though.

Next was Plymouth's. I didn't like this one at all. It seemed to leave an odd aftertaste, maybe because the gin is sweeter? I don't know, but it didn't work for me.

Last, I shook the last few drops out of my bottle of Tanqueray Rangpur. This was my favorite. The lime in the gin makes it a great base for a g&t, and the herbal stuff isn't as overpowering as in the 10. I'd go with this one for g&t's, though I'd like to make one with Bombay sometime and see how it compares.

Summer Birthday Parties:

That buzz is no mosquito.

Last night was a family birthday party for my niece, and aside from cutting the cake - well, actually it was a precut cheesecake sampler from Sam's - and singing a presto version of Happy Birthday, we spent the entire time outside. Some of the dogs, being sensible, stayed inside in the AC.

I was asked to bring liquor, having a reputation now as the liquor specialist in the family (who'd have ever thought?), so I brought a citrus punch from my calendar: OJ, grapefruit juice, lime juice, lemonade concentrate (I used pink), and 3 cups of gin. I wasn't going to use my good stuff, so I bought a big (plastic; ugh) bottle of Gordon's at Sam's. Right before going over, I added a liter of club soda and the requisite sliced up fruit.

After taking a few sips of it, my sister said, Boy, Dave, is this strong! I took a sip, didn't seem particularly strong. She said, Take a second sip: that's when you get it. I did, and she was right: you got the kick from my secret ingredient, half a cup of Mezcal. I liked it. Frankly, I should have added the second bottle of club soda called for in the recipe, but I thought that might water it down too much. Uh uh. It tasted less like punch than very spiked fruit juice. (You could really taste the grapefruit juice too.)

She and I were the only ones drinking it (light beer was preferred by the rest of the crowd). I had 2 glasses and wisely called it quits, because it hit even harder later on. A good party drink to knock everyone on their butt. A little Cointreau or similar orange liqueur wouldn't hurt either.

Blame Canada

Last night was blended whiskey night, so I used Canadian Club for 2 drinks from my cocktail a day calendar.

The first was a Whiskey Rickey. A lime rickey was one of Karen Walker's favorite drinks in Will and Grace (was there any distilled substance that wasn't one of her favorite drinks?). Basically a rickey is a base spirit, if not a blithe one, lime, and club soda. The rickey is an ancestor, or perhaps just a distant relative, of the mojito.

So anyway, history lesson over, mine was Canadian Club, lime (I used Rose's because I was too lazy to squeeze one), and club soda. I may have poured a bit much club soda; it tasted more like spiked soda water than watered down whiskey. Not bad though; I could taste the sweetness of the Rose's.

The second drink is what my calendar calls a John Collins: bourbon (or blended whiskey), lemon juice, simple syrup, and club soda. (And various fruit garnishes, which I always skip.) I didn't have such a heavy hand with the club soda on this one. Even better than the rickey. And easy to mix too. I bet a shot of Mandarin Napoleon would be good in this. Or maybe kirsch. I've discovered since buying the bottle of kirsch last weekend that there really is a world of difference between it and cheap cherry brandy as a mixer.

A bartending tip: I've found that the 6 packs of little bottles of club soda are a lot handier to use than the liter bottles. You can use as much as you need for a drink or two and not have the rest of the liter bottle sitting in the fridge losing its fizz for a month (well, I don't mix soda-based drinks too often). Although they don't have the number of ounces in each bottle on the side, which seems odd, unless I really am going blind from doing something too often as a kid.

Lillet, Not Frasier's Ex-Wife

I finally located a bottle of Lillet blanc up in Indianapolis. Up on the top shelf too; an employee had to get it down for me. Several of my drink recipes have called for it, and I've been substituting dry vermouth.

Another of France's many aperitifs (why don't we drink those much over here?), I tried some straight on ice: sort of a sweet dry vermouth. I also have a bottle of Lillet rouge that I haven't cracked since none of my recipes have called for it, but I don't go for very sweet red wines, except maybe port.

The first drink to catch up on was from January, a vodka martini with Absolut Mandarin, a drizzle of Lillet, and orange flower water. It was OK, not particularly distinctive despite all the orange in it.

The second one was another martini with gin (I used Plymouth), Russian vodka (Stoli), and Lillet. I liked this one better: the sweetness of the Lillet cut the astringency of the vodka. Not a bad drink if you're looking for something different to do with vodka.

Last (not on the same evening) was a cocktail with Absolut Mandarin (it called for Citron), gin, lots of Cointreau, a drizzle of brandy (I'm not sure why; to fortify all the other alcohol, I guess), and sliced ginger.

This was the best of the bunch. It was really orangey, but if I'd had Citron, that would have cut back on the orange. As the ginger slices steeped (I didn't bother to peel them), the drink got nicely spicey. A good drink. I may try it again when I have some Citron and see if that makes it even better.

Pina Colada Night

Saturday was Pina Colada day at our house. The first recipe I mixed up was supposedly the 'luxe' version: pineapple chunks instead of just juice, light rum, coconut cream, passion fruit liqueur, mango nectar, lime juice, maybe somethng else, I've lost track. I hate drinks with a cast of thousands list of ingredients. There were so many ingredients that I had to pull out my large glass shaker and fight with the lid for 5 mintues to get it off. All this with ice whirled in a blender.

I'd just bought a bottle of Tommy Bahama rum to replace my soon to be emptied bottle of generic Bacardi (see below), and I'd located passion fruit liqueur without any trouble, for a change. That's pretty good stuff just drunk straight.

I'm not a big fan of frozen drinks, but this isn't bad. My only complaint is, as I said a post or two ago, pineapple juice tends to overpower everything else in a cocktail. I couldn't taste the passion fruit, or maybe that was a 'layer of flavor' that was just a little thin.

I looked up pina coladas on wikipedia: originally it was just the juice of a pineapple. Then it turned into a spiked pineapple drink, which as you'd expect, didn't take long to happen. The earliest mention of a pineaple juice drink with rum and coconut cream appeared in 1950, with various bars in Puerto Rico claiming to have made the first one. Today, it's the national drink of Puerto Rico.

So anyway, after my blender full of pinas, I needed a break to have something to eat (chicken croquettes, popular with the 4 legged denizens here). Protein and grease are efficient absorbers of alcohol. Next I tried a recipe from a day or two ago, not a frozen version, just shaken and over ice: pineapple juice, coconut cream, rum (I finished that bottle of Bacardi), and lime.

This version seemed like the early pineapple juice spiked with rum incarnation of the pina colada. Not much substance; I liked the frozen version better. I'll have to make my way to San Juan soon and take a scientific survey and learn how the authentic version is made, and drunk.

Mortal Sins

Today I drove up to Indianapolis to find a liquor supermart that I'd seen advertised in The Star. I keyed the address into my Garmin, and the nice electronic lady took me right to it (not that it was hard to find otherwise).

Boy, is Kahn's some place. Not as large as the party store in Louisville that I've gone to, but all liquor, save for a few boxes of pretzels and crackers.

I found my Mandarine Napoleon, my Littlet blanc (which, when the sales guy repeated it, I realized I'd been mispronouncing like a Midwestern rube), kirschwasser, pear brandy, and most important, the elusive Parfait Amour. That was the first thing I saw on the shelf, just about. And in such a large bottle. I have enough purple vanilla tasting stuff to last me for years. I didn't find kummel, which the sales guy hadn't heard of, or Maraschino liqueur; the less competent sales guy thought I meant a bottle of cherries.

When I got home I tried shots of everything but the Lillet (wasn't cold yet) to see what I'd been missing all these years. The Parfait Amour (I bought the Marie Brizard brand) is supposedly made from Spanish oranges, but I just taste vanilla. If I hadn't read 'oranges' on the bottle I never would have guessed. And what's the purple color all about?

The Mandarine Napoleon (minus the accent here) packs a punch. It's the most potent orange liqueur I've drunk, I think (maybe Campari is stronger if you put it in the same category). I coughed a time or time two sipping it. I like it thought (at $32 or more a bottle, I should).

The two brandies were very different. The pear brandy is a German brand, from the 'Black Forest'. It seemed lightweight on my tongue, not very substantial, though I could taste the pear. A good mixer or to use in baking, but not something I'd sip as an after-dinner drink.

The cherry brandy is a French brand and seemed to fill my mouth with flavor more than the pear, I could feel it on my palate. It had more body and would make a better after-dinner drink with coffee. Spike some maraschino cherry juice with it, and who needs the liqueur?

And how much did I spend? Well, if the damn bag of seasoned pretzels hadn't been so expensive... Rosa, who went along for the ride, didn't like them that much actually. Five bottles of liquor, well, over $100, under $200. I'm thinking of all those children in China who can't find Parfait Amour. The amount I spent might be a mortal sin, even for Catholics, let alone us Episcopalians. But then I went to Whole Foods and bought healthy stuff to eat, so now I feel better.

Yo Ho Ho Revisited

Last night I made up 2 rum drinks from the last few days. The first one is supposedly an Argentinian drink, but call me dubious.

Ingredients: gold rum (I used Bacardi), apricot brandy, pineapple juice, and a dribble of lime. This morning I couldn't tell you how it tasted, except sweet. Pineapple juice tends to overwhelm everything you mix it with. I like fresh pineapple, just not the juice.

The second drink called for a sugar cube (from my red and white Russian china sugar bowl that rarely gets opened) muddled with lime, then calvados and a little less light rum (Bacardi) stirred with ice.

I like calvados, but it didn't work with the rum for me, and the muddled lime and sugar didn't contribute much. This drink has potential, but it needs tweaking.

Champagne Cocktails Part Deux

I finished up my bottle of Korbel with 2 more champagne-based drinks from last month.

The first was a Champagne Cosmo: cranberry juice, pear brandy (I didn't have any, so I used calvados), cointreau, and champagne. This is a Cosmo in name only. I really couldn't taste the cranberry juice much, but I got a hint of the cointreau. An OK drink, but if I'm in a rare mood for a Cosmo, I'll mix up the real thing and call Sarah Jessica to come over.

The second one was an ice cream-based cocktail, and who doesn't like champagne and ice cream? Sherbet, actually, so even better: lime sherbet (none on sale at Walgreen's, so I used mango), cognac, kirsch (I used a cheap cherry brandy), and champagne.

I've been surprised how well cognac goes with champagne, and this is a good drink. The sherbet adds sweetness to the rather dry champagne, and the oversweet cherry brandy (in name only) probably gets the ol' insulin flowing too. Good summer drink for a brunch or supper.

Flying

Last night I caught up on 2 champagne recipes from last month, since I didn't have a chunk of lime on hand for the recipe of the day.

The first was a Pimm's Royal: Pimm's topped with champagne, lemon twist rubbed around the rim, cuke spike, etc. I opened an inexpensive bottle of Korbel brut for these recipes.

I like Pimm's, but I didn't like this drink. I couldn't taste the Pimm's, and in general the drink seemed rather tasteless. Maybe a sweeter champagne would have made a difference, or maybe rubbing the cuke around the rim of the glass instead of the lemon.

The second drink was called "Flying", commemorating the birthday of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. I was already flying after the first drink and not having eaten much for supper. This recipe calls for gin (I used Plymouth, which is sweeter), lemon juice (actually fresh), cointreau (fresh new bottle), and sugar shaken on ice, then topped with champagne.

This champagne cocktail was much better than the first one. It was sweeter and less astringent, and I could taste the gin. You might be able to play with it and make it even better, it has potential for being a great drink.

The Bulls Are in Bloom Again

Or at least running, over in Spain. (What was the name of that cartoon bull that wore a flower or ate flowers or something like that?)

At any rate, my calendar's 2 recipes for today called for gold tequila, not a liquor that I associate with Spain, but I've never been there, so what do I know. I used good old reliable Jose Cuervo, as seen in asinine ads on TV.

The first drink called for pineapple juice, tequila, and a little lime. It tasted like, well, spiked pineapple juice. Maybe fresh pineapple and a better tequila make all the difference, but this one was a get me where I want to go and get my FDA 10 servings of fruit for the day drink and not much more.

The second was pineapple chunks (Dole, in my case), a drizzle of triple sec, lime juice, tequila, and ice, blendered into a smoothie. I keep saying I should make more smoothies (and I have a smoothie cookbook); I always like them when I drink one.

This drink was much better: fizzy, a more subtle pineapple taste, the tequila blended with all the other flavors. A good drink for a summer evening. A touch of Pernod might have made it even better.

British Sailor Night

I was almost out of my bottle of Tanqueray Rangpur gin, so I picked up a bottle of Tanqueray 10 at my neighborhood Sam's Club. To taste the difference between them and my bottle of Plymouth, I decided to do a taste test. So I pulled 3 shot glasses out of the cupboard and filled each about half full.

The Tanqueray was definitely limey. It reportedly also has bay leaf (I have a little laurel tree that's my favorite plant) and ginger in it. I couldn't taste those, but definitely a citrusy taste. It'd be great just by itself or in any drink with a citrus tang.

Next was the Plymouth. It's definitely sweeter than the other 2, but compared to them, it tasted a bit like drinking rubbing alcohol. This would be a good gin as a generic mixer but not to drink by itself. I wish I still had a bottle of Burnett's to add to the taste test. Sometimes the cheapest is the best.

Then the Tanqueray 10, which is the most expensive of the 3. It reportedly goes through a quadruple distillation; the manufacturer has it aimed right at the martini market. I like the bottle. It looks like a 10 size. And the gin is much stronger than the other two. The back of the bottle says it has citrus "and other botanicals" in it, but I didn't taste the citrus.

What I did taste was akin to olives. This would make a phenomenal gin martini with an olive or a dirty marini. If I had some olives, I'd experiment and see. But I'm feeling pretty happy after those 3 shots right now.

Earlier I made a drink from a couple weeks ago in my calendar: equal parts OJ and gin (I used the 10, but the Rangpur would be better), Cointreau (a good chance to finish my bottle), and a dash or two of orange flower water (a good chance to find my bottle, hidden at the back of the spice and herb drawer). Another version of this is the Adironack, which uses sweet vermouth (that doesn't even sound good right now).

I liked this drink better than I thought I would. It would make a good brunch drink, better than a mimosa for me. I just wish I had a bottle of Bombay so I could try one more shot and be even happier. Am I sure I don't have any olives?

Whiskeys

I'm dog-sitting my mother's dog, who had a mild stroke this morning. She's recovering pretty well except for incontinence. If I rush her out the door as soon as I see her struggling to her feet from a nap, I'm usually safe, but I've been too slow too many times. I'm going to have to bring up the Hoover shampooer once she goes home or wherever she ends up going.

At any rate, I needed a good stiff drink or two today. The first called for blended whiskey (I used Seagram's), grapefruit juice, and dry vermouth. I like all 3 of those separately, but they didn't go together too well. Maybe more grapefruit juice and less whiskey? Or more whiskey and less juice? Dunno, but the flavors just didn't seem to work together.

The second was a drink from January that called for ginger liqueur. Supposedly Bols makes one, but I haven't been able to find it. So I decided to brew up my own: I put some brandy, sliced ginger, and a little honey (from Flying Bee Ranch in Salem, Oregon, which has the best honey in the world, especially their pumpkin honey) in a small pan and simmered it for a few minutes. The alcohol may have evaporated out, but it was sure spicy!

The recipe is simple: 2 oz single malt to 1 oz ginger liqueur. Not too bad: a real ginger liqueur would probably make it better, not to mention a better single malt than the mid-to-low-end one I'm drinking, but this would make a swell after-dinner drink, especially in January.

Back in the Saddle

June was a slow month for drinking. Maybe because of the summer heat, maybe because I was busy working, but I didn't drink anything most nights and sure didn't keep up with my calendar. Part of the problem was the drinks in my drink of the day calendar weren't too inspiring, they seemed like variations on drinks from earlier in the year.

Last night I made what they called a Waldorf, as in the hotel, cocktail: bourbon, pernod (I use Ricard), a little simple syrup. I got to the point I was liking anise-flavored cocktails, but this one had too much licorice for my taste.

Tonight I mixed two chocolate-based drinks. The first was gold tequila with Tia Maria. This one was a lot like another one earlier this year. It's surprising that tequila goes so well with chocolate. Not a bad drink - I used reposado tequila - but not really distinctive enough to drink very often.

Then there was one with cognac, half and half, and creme cacao. A brandy Alexander with cognac. I like this one better than the tequila drink, but too much like liquored-up chocolate milk. Although I did forget the nutmeg I was supposed to sprinkle on top, not your usual kid's drink.