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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Savoy’s Russian Cocktail harkens back to imperial Russia

Browsing William Grimes’ entertaining book Straight Up or On the Rocks: A Cultural History of American Drink has lead to the discovery of interesting cocktail recipes.  Just a month ago you had the chance to try an intriguing sounding cocktail of Rum, Dry Vermouth, and Grenadine, El Presidente, that had something a little different to offer.  Grimes’ chapter on Vodka’s takeover of the American drinking scene mentioned yet another interesting sounding recipe: the Russian Cocktail.  This Russian is neither Black nor White, but clear.  The semi-obligatory web search turned up a couple of recipes that were almost identical to the original cocktail recipe from the Savoy Cocktail Book, referenced by Grimes, which just calls for equal parts of all three ingredients.

No experimentation was required to develop the recipe below, but that doesn’t preclude some experimentation on your part.  Start with equal parts (as little as ¾ ounce) and work from there.  The Vodka in this recipe is present (as it often is) to tone down the flavor a little.  The combination of Gin and Crème de Cacao was a pleasant surprise, but if you find it overpowering either add a little Vodka, or cut back on the Gin and Crème de Cacao, or perhaps both.  The choice is yours, so get back to your cocktail lab and make this drink your own.  A note on garnish: The Savoy often fails to specify garnish and did so in this case, but since orange goes well with both Gin and chocolate, a twist of orange peel was added by the Utah Mixologist.  Feel free to change that, too.

Russian Cocktail

1 oz Dry Gin
1 oz Crème de Cacao
1 oz Vodka

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass half full of cracked ice.  Stir while contemplating riding across the frozen Russian steppes until you feel cold.  Strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with twist of orange peel.  The Savoy Cocktail Book says: “tossitoff quickski,” but if you used quality ingredients and enjoy the taste, take your time.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pisco Sour: a tart treat from Peru to you

Those of you who live in Salt Lake City are doubtlessly aware of the Utah Mixologist and the World Cocktail Brain.  A few weeks ago, Andy Beaulieu, who has developed an Innovation Brain that you can find on the Results for a Change™ website, sent me an email about having a Pisco Sour at a restaurant that was so good that he was motivated to research and develop his own recipe (a man after my own heart) that he offered to send in.  The Utah Mixologist was, of course, unable to turn down such an offer, especially after having once had a Pisco Sour made by some friends just back from a honeymoon in Peru.  If this recipe sounds as good to you as it did to me, you’ll be happy to know that the Utah State Liquor Stores do sell Pisco Capel (CS Code 064619) (be sure to phone ahead to make certain that your store has some in stock).  One rare ingredient Andy mentions is amargo chuncho bitters.  If you know where to find them in Utah (or even on the web), please help us all out and post the information as a response to this article.  A not-so-rare ingredient is raw eggs: make yourself aware of the dangers associated with using uncooked eggs in a recipe.

A note from Andy about the lime juice: “In Peru the lime is called a “limon” or “green lemon” and it is small and very sour.  It is not the large dark green limes (Persian limes) that are grown in Mexico and sold throughout the US.  It is more like “Key Limes” that are found in Florida.  For best results (outside of Peru), use Nellie and Joe’s Key West Lime Juice, available in the US in plastic bottles in grocery stores.  As a substitute, you may also experiment with combining conventional lime juice with some lemon juice.  The small amount of orange juice takes the harsh edge off the Key Lime juice, but is not required.”  Although Nellie and Joe’s website said that Super Targets in Utah sold Nellie and Joe’s Key West Lime Juice, a very helpful employee at the Union Park store was not able to find any; Harmon’s, however, came through.  (Hint: be sure to call ahead for the Lime juice, too.)  I have suggested, but not tested, alternative ingredients below.  If you do use the Lime and Lemon juice mix, feel free to experiment with the proportions for as long as your Pisco holds out and post your results.  Please note that the liquid ingredients in Andy’s recipe total six ounces without the foam (or melted ice), so be sure to serve in a large glass.  There was a little foam left over by the Pilsner glass (see photo) used here.

Pisco Sour

2 oz Pisco (use premium for a smoother drink)
1 oz Simple Syrup
2 oz Key Lime Juice
OR 1 ½ oz Lime juice and ½ oz Lemon juice
dash of orange juice (optional)
1 oz water
½ of the white of a large egg

Three drops Angostura Bitters (or better yet, if available, amargo chuncho bitters)
Combine all ingredients except bitters and egg white in a shaker half full of cracked ice.  Shake well to chill.  Strain into a holding glass (if Boston Shaker, use the shaker glass) and discard the remaining ice.  Add egg white and shake again (very well) to create foam.  Pour into large, pre-chilled tumbler (or a Pilsner glass) and add three drops of bitters.  Garnish with a Lime wheel and serve with a cocktail straw.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cocktails 101: Stocking your cocktail bar for great drinks

The first step to stocking your bar is to take stock of what you have.  Most amateur mixologists will not be starting from scratch.  By the time you decide that you want to learn how to shake, stir, and pour your own cocktails, you have probably been sampling cocktails in bars or restaurants for a while, and mixing simple drinks at home.  What kind of liquor do you have around the house?  Put it all on the kitchen counter and see what you’ve got.  (If it won’t fit, you may well have already stocked your bar.)  Don’t bother with wine and beer at this point; you’ll need to have some around for parties and everyday consumption, but don’t really belong in your cocktail bar.

Unless you’re lucky, space is always an issue.  It’s often cheaper to buy bigger bottles, but you may not have room for very many of them.  750 ml. bottles are probably the right size.  If you’re budget conscious, you can buy 1750 ml. bottles when they’re on sale and use them to refill the smaller bottles in your bar.  Never try to deceive your guests by refilling expensive bottles with cheap booze; you will fool no one, and hurt your reputation in the process. 

Begin by stocking a basic bar.  As you buy the necessary ingredients for specific cocktails, your bar will grow and evolve (this will happen organically if you start a drink-of-the-month club).  If you’re on a budget, don’t try to buy everything at once; buy bottles as you need them and you’ll be able to afford better brands.  If you and your friends lean toward a certain type of drink (e.g. rum or gin), stock those first.  You should also consider the types of cocktails you will be pouring.  If you plan on making Gin or Vodka Martinis you will want to buy better quality brands of those liquors than if you plan on making Vodka Collins or Tom Collins. 

Now it’s time to get down to business and look at the liquors you will need to have a well-stocked home cocktail bar.  You should stock your bar with Rum, Vodka, Gin, Bourbon, Tequila, Brandy, and Whiskey, as well as a variety of liqueurs and mixers, to have all you need to make fabulous cocktails.  Remember, all of these spirits are available across a broad range of price and quality.  Try to determine if you’re paying for a difference in quality and taste, or just for a brand name and a lot of advertising.  Three popular, top selling liquors are Rum, Vodka and Gin; follow this link to a post that recommends some good, but not too expensive, brands and some recipes to use them in.  Let’s not forget Bourbon, Tequila, Brandy, Whiskey and a selection of liqueurs.  (You were probably just thinking “hey, he forgot [insert your favorite here].”)  Follow this link to my recommendations for Bourbon, Tequila, Brandy, Whiskey, etc.  

Never forget bar safety.  If you have children in your home, keep your bar locked or out of reach.  By the time they’re teenagers, locked is the best option.  Alcohol and kids do not mix.  We used to keep ours (bottles, not kids) in a cabinet above the fridge. You may think you can trust your kids, and you may be right, but what about their friends? Be safe and avoid heartbreak.
stocking bar, entertaining

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Entertaining 101: How do I get started entertaining?

So you think you can have a cocktail party in Salt Lake City? You’ve been reading about resurgence of the cocktail.  Perhaps you’ve sipped a well-made cocktail or two while dining out, and have been thinking about making cocktails at home.  You’ll be surprised at how much enjoyment well presented and well mixed cocktails can add to your home entertaining… and yes, you’re right, you can have a cocktail party, even in Salt Lake City.  A good way to get started mixing cocktails is to find some like-minded neighbors and form a drink-of-the-month club (DOMC). A drink-of-the-month club can be a fun – and inexpensive – way to try new cocktails while getting together with neighbors.  My wife and I formed the first drink-of-the-month club here in Salt Lake City with our neighbors (and good friends), Tim and Melinda, several years ago. The four of us learned a few simple rules that kept our “meetings” safe and enjoyable.  Follow this link to see how to form your own drink-of-the-month club.

You don’t need a well stocked bar to start a DOMC; one good trick is to let your bar grow organically as you buy the necessary ingredients for new cocktails.  One fun “activity” of the Drink of the Month Club is trying new cocktails.  There are some great cocktail ideas in this post: Cocktails 101: How can you use ten classic recipes to expand your cocktail repertoire?  Another post expands on the list of cocktails: Cocktails 101: How to mix six classic Cocktail recipes from the 1950’s.  Be sure to check out the slide shows in these articles.

Soon we’ll review stocking your bar, but this should be enough to get you started with your first DOMC meeting or (start small) cocktail party.  Here is another copy of the DOMC Rules.  Many of them also apply to your cocktail parties.

Rules of the Drink-of-the-Month Club
  • No Driving.
  • No under-age drinkers – always obey local laws.
  • Be a good neighbor – no noise, no mess, no loud music.
  • Only invite neighbors who live within very short walking distance.
  • One cocktail per person per recipe (unless only two couples are participating).
  • Keep it small (6-8 people maximum).
  • Know your limits, and when to stop drinking.
  • Never urge someone to have another drink when they want to stop.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Classic Martini – a cocktail for the ages… or you

The Martini is the classic cocktail.  It’s so iconic that its name is often used to mean “cocktail”.  Many cocktails are called Martinis that, sadly, are not.  Accept no substitutes!  Since the primary ingredient (about 98%) of a Martini is Gin, you will want to use your best for this cocktail.  (See my paragraph on Gin in Cocktails 101: Stocking your bar for delicious cocktails – Part 2.)  If you don’t have any really good gin, your might want to add some to your bar.  This month the Utah State Liquor Store system has Tanqueray® Gin on Special Price Adjustment.  Plymouth® Gin is also marked down in case you like your Gin a little sweeter.  Hendrick’s® is an excellent Gin that makes great Martinis, as does Bombay Sapphire®.

Martinis should, of course, be stirred and not shaken.  Do you remember the old movies where the man of the house got home from work and stirred up a pitcher of Martinis?  Cocktails that are clear should not be shaken because shaking clouds them up by introducing small bubbles into the mix.  On the other hand, shaking also introduces tiny ice crystals into a cocktail that feel sensational as you drink an ice-cold cocktail.  Decide for yourself: clarity vs. ice crystals.  For garnish, some people prefer olives in their Martinis (this is obviously the only way to go for a dirty Martini), others prefer a twist of lemon peel (twist it above the glass to release the oils before dropping it in).  I go both ways, depending on mood.  The glass is key to a good Martini.  The best glass for Martinis is (you guessed it) a Martini glass.  The purpose of the stem is to keep your hands away from the drink and consequently to keep the drink cold, so hold the glass by the stem.  Once you get hooked on Martinis, you will want to invest in some glasses.  Chill your glasses in ice or in the freezer (preferred) for five to ten minutes or longer.  Chilling glasses is good for all cocktails, but especially for Martinis.


2 ½ oz of your favorite Gin
1/2 teaspoon Noilly Prat® dry vermouth (or better)
Dash of Angostura® Bitters (optional)

Pour Gin into a mixing glass half full of cracked ice.  Add the optional bitters if you’re in the mood.  Stir briskly at least 30 seconds until well chilled.  Let it rest while you fetch a glass from the freezer.  Drop the vermouth into the glass and swish it around to coat the inside.  Feel free to pour out any excess vermouth if you like your Martini very dry, or pour it into the mixing glass and take another stir or two.  Strain the Martini into the glass, add your selected garnish (see above), and enjoy!

If you add a cocktail onion instead of an olive, you’ll have a Gibson.  For a Dirty Martini, add 1/2 oz olive brine to the mixing glass, but take my word for it: you’re better off not doing this.