Drink of the Week: The Road Warrior (a work in progress) (updated)

The Road Warrior.For roughly the same period of time as I’ve been doing Drink of the Week, I’ve been attending a series of soirees held about twice every summer and hosted by the Southern California Drive-In Movie Society and ol’ blogging chum, Dennis Cozzalio of the noted cinephile hang, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. Don’t tell anyone but, against the rules of drive-ins everywhere, I’ve been smuggling hooch into every single event that I’ve attended.

Now, since I prefer my booze in cocktail form, this presents a bit of a problem. Yes, you can try to make a Manhattan at a drive-in, if you’re prepared for messing around with a cocktail shaker out of the back of a car. Even if you do, however — and I was once crazy enough to give it a go — how are you going to properly serve them to several people? Since my definition of “proper” includes a chilled glass made of actual glass, it doesn’t really come together.

Instead, I’ve mostly preferred to find a drink that can be easily transported in a thermos or other container and then enjoyed from a plastic cup, with maybe just an the addition of ice or perhaps some canned or bottled soda water. The Cliquet was one such drink, but this year I decided to try something new. And so we have a creation, for better or worse, of my very own. It borrows the American title, circa 1981, of George Miller’s hugely popular second entry in the “Mad Max” series because, well, movies and portability. (Also, I first contemplated the drink when I thought I’d be watching “Mad Max: Fury Road” at this summer’s earlier get together, which I tragically was forced to miss.)

I’m still perfecting the Road Warrior, which is definitely tiki influenced, but still perhaps a bit too heavy on the sweet. It’s a work in progress, but enough excuses. Let’s see what I can do to make this thing work.

The Road Warrior

1 ounce white rum
1/2 ounce 151 rum
1 ounce pineapple juice
1 ounce apple juice
1/2 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
1/2 teaspoon cassis
1/2 teaspoon limoncello
1/2 teaspoon grenadine or raspberry syrup
Soda water to top (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in a glass. You can also, of course, multiply the ingredients many times over and prepare the thing in a large thermos or other container and later pour it into whatever sort of cups or glasses are available. Next, stir with plenty of ice and maybe keep stirring. If it’s still too sweet for you, add a few splashes of club soda or seltzer. Prepare for a drink that may or may not taste good, but which should at least improve you enjoyment of an evening of drive-in movie entertainment.

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In terms of my hard liquors this week, I pretty much stuck to the basics. My 80 proof white rum was Bacardi; my 151 was Trader Vic’s. (So cheap on sale!) The other ingredients were pretty much what I had on hand. Luxardo for the maraschino and limoncello (switching over to Maraska’s maraschino made no real difference). Similarly, using higher end Myers light rum didn’t make a big dent one way or the other. What did make for a very significant improvement was trading up from Dole’s canned pineapple juice to Trader Joe’s extremely tasty not-from-concentrate in a carton.

In a very real sense I won’t consider this week’s drink anywhere near completion until I try it out on the friendly folks at this week’s event at the Mission Tiki Drive-In. I will say that I’ve been dosing a willing guinea pig who is not, however, a dyed-in-the-wool cocktail person. The test subject prefers the drink sans soda and enjoys both the sweetness and the undeniable kick-assyness that the 151 adds, but at this point I still find that adding a bit time seltzer/club soda spritz helps a great deal.

Stay tuned. On Sunday I promise to report back with a brief update on the reaction and my semi-final verdict on the Road Warrior.

UPDATE: It’s Sunday early afternoon as I write this. And, while I insist that Dennis Cozzalio’s delicious home made breaded chicken and cous-cous was much tastier than the Road Warrior, Dennis and few other people seemed very happy with the drink indeed. Notably, however, they all took my advice and had it with a few splashes of soda water. I’m still unconvinced the drink is a flat-out success but who am I to argue?

I will say that I found myself enjoying “American Ultra” more than I might have expected, I did find myself nodding off during “The Man from UNCLE,” despite some obviously gorgeous filmmaking (from Guy Ritchie???) and crackerjack performances.  Alcohol and cinema make great companions, but there can be a price!

  

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Drink of the Week: The Brojito Mojito

the Brojito Mojito It’s probably not the focus of your weekend plans, but you might be interested to know that this Sunday is National Rum Day. I wound up getting a few pitches for rum-based cocktails for the day, but the makers of Shellback Silver Rum got to me first with a pretty interesting variation on possibly the most popular of all rum drinks (as well as the usual free bottle in the mail). It’s a pretty good way to show off their light rum, an intriguingly vanilla-forward entry in the very crowded silver rum arena.

The Brojito Mojito differs from the classic Mojito in two ways.First, there’s the addition of a-little-goes-a-long-way anise flavored liqueurs to the mix, and, second, it adds, well, more — more lime juice, more simple syrup, even more mint leaves. In fact, while there’s nothing overtly bro-ish about Shellback’s Mojito variant, it’s definitely a drink that goes big and refuses to go home. The emphasis on excess actually made me think of a key scene from the tough-guy movie classic “Key Largo,” in which bad-guy gangster Edward G. Robinson admits to basically just wanting “more.”

Still, there’s nothing at all nefarious about the Brojito Mojito and it’s probably not fair to compare it to the fascistic criminal from John Huston’s enjoyably overheated film noir. It’s a tasty and fun variation on a drink with a great many variations. If more isn’t always more, it’s often very nice indeed.

The Brojito Mojito

2 ounces Shellback Silver Rum
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce absinthe or Herbsaint
2 ounces soda water
10-15 mint leaves

Start with a highball/collins glass and add the mint leaves. I personally get impatient counting out ten to fifteen mint leaves and therefore prefer to think of it variously as either a “bunch” of mint leaves or perhaps a “buttload of mint leaves.” Muddle them very lightly — you don’t want to bring out of the bitterness that over-muddling can result in. A light tap or two will suffice.

Next, add all the liquid ingredients and stir. Then add plenty of ice and stir some more. Prepare for one big mojito.

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I have to admit I’m not in love with the name but, beyond that, this is a pretty decent not-so-little beverage with a nice kick. It’s a bit on the sweet side, but it’s balanced by the addition of  the very strong, somewhat bitter anise flavors of an absinthe, or the somewhat milder variation of Herbsaint (marketed as substitute absinthe, back when absinthe was illegal,). I leaned slightly towards the absinthe simply because, with an entire ounce of simple syrup and a relatively sweet base spirit, the Brojito Mojito is plenty sweet enough and needs as much counterpoint as it can get.

Finally, regular readers might notice that I didn’t include an option for using superfine sugar in place of simple syrup. That’s because — and I have no idea why this should be — the result simply didn’t taste very good. Don’t ask me why. The ways of cocktails, like the ways of men, are mysterious.

  

Drink of the Week: The Sloe Gin Fizz

the Sloe Gin Fizz.I don’t remember what we were mixing it with, but one of my first experiences with hardish liquor during late high school or early college days involved a very sweet and inexpensive product calling itself sloe gin. I don’t remember much from that night, but I do remember that it went down pretty easy. I think I actually might have liked it, callow youth that I was.

I also remember, even then, having heard of something called a Sloe Gin Fizz. I somehow feel sure that I had heard of it from a W.C. Fields radio program or movie or some such. Actually, until I looked at the bottle, I had assumed the Fields cocktail was a “Slow Gin Fizz.” Little did I know that there such a thing as a sloe, not so much a berry as relative of a plum. In all the years to come, I would never see a Sloe Gin Fizz on a cocktail menu.

Cut to last week. While lingering in a little known San Fernando Valley discount booze emporium, I looked up and a bottle of Plymouth Sloe Gin was staring down at me. I had been used to seeing the stuff in the liqueur section of Bev-Mo and Total Wine, bottled by the likes of DeKuyper and Hiram Walker. This seemed to be a far more authentic brew, coming from the same company that is now the one and only known purveyor of Plymouth style dry gin.

My interest ran high and, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, I purchased both a $30.00 bottle of the Plymouth product and $10.00 bottle of DeKuyper’s Luscious Sloe Gin. (As in “for lushes,” I guess.) Next came the research into recipes for what turns out to be a really outstanding drink that’s definitely deserving of a major revival…assuming you use the right products in the right recipe. I’ll give you two of them.

The Sloe Gin Fizz

1 1/2 ounces sloe gin
1/2-3/4 ounces fresh lemon juice
1 large egg white or 3 tablespoons of pasteurized egg white
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
Soda water (to top)

or

2 ounces sloe gin
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
Soda water (to top)

Combine all of your ingredients except the soda water in a cocktail shaker. If you’re making the first version with egg white, particularly egg white straight out of the egg, you’re going to want do start out with a dry (ice free) shake to emulsify the egg white.

Then, whichever version you’re making, you’re going to add lots of ice to the liquid and shake it very vigorously. Next, you’ll strain into into a well chilled collins/highball glass. Try to make it a fairly small glass if you’re doing the egg white free version.

The final stage is topping it off with chilled soda water (club soda and seltzer seem to work about equally well). What you’re going for is a nice foamy cap on your drink. If you’re using egg white, that won’t be a problem. In fact, you’ll want to be careful about pouring too much soda water and creating an overflow situation. If you’re doing the egg-white free recipe, there are serious bartending contraptions you can buy that might help out with your foam, but David Wondrich (who I pretty much stole recipe #2 from outright), suggests it’s also just fine to pour the soda water in “carelessly”…and, as the picture above proves, the man is right!

Next, take a sip and beware. The Sloe Gin Fizz, particularly the egg white version, has brainfreeze potential.

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I truly dug both versions of the Sloe Gin Fizz, and which you choose is really your call, depending on your personal preferences. Either way, it’s achieves a very nice balance of sweetness and tartness and it’s extremely refreshing and light, as your base spirit is only about 50-60 proof. The egg white version is obviously creamier and may feel a bit colder in a milky sort of a way, but it’s actually a bit less picturesque in that you get a merely pink foam. While using the Plymouth Sloe Gin proved dramatically superior here — it’s very defintely “the good stuff” in this category — it is still a very acceptable drink using the DeKuyper el cheapo sloe gin.

I cannot say the same for the egg white free variant, however. In terms of appearance, the drink was not the scarlet hue you see in the picture, but an ugly,  synthetic bright red. It didn’t taste pretty either.

Sloe gin, by the way, is not technically gin at all, but a liqueur traditionally made by soaking sloes in gin or neutral spirits. As to whether you should buy the cheap stuff or the good stuff, well, if you’ve got only $10.00 bucks, a lemon, soda water, and eggs or egg white in your fridge and you have your heart set on a semi-authentic sloe gin fizz, it’s a defensible purchase. Otherwise, I’d save up for the Plymouth. There’s only so much magic you can make with inferior ingredients.

  

Drink of the Week: The Black Ginger

The Black Ginger.In the world of higher end hard liquor, it seems as if whiskey is the big man on campus these days. I say that because the relative new kids in the world of super premium booze — tequila and rum — often try to emulate whiskey just a little. I am not opposed. While it might be less than advisable for Richie Cunningham to go around in a leather jacket like the Fonz, many of these whiskeyish expressions are actually pretty interesting cross pollinations, retaining enough of their own essential character to be interesting.

So it is with Hornitos Black Barrel, this week’s intriguing free-booze-I-got-in-the-mail. It’s been aged in wooden barrels to give it a more woody and very slightly sweet flavor that will likely remind you of a decent rye or bourbon, while also making you think even more of a pretty good tequila. It works nicely in an Old Fashioned, which is always my test for just about any booze, but especially one that has whiskey aspirations.

As for this week’s recipe offered by the Hornitos people, it’s not the flat-out cocktail home run they offered for my July 4th post a few weeks back to promote their perfectly-good plata, but it’ll do if you like sweet, refreshing drinks with a small dash of complexity.

The Black Ginger

1 1/2 ounces Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
ginger beer (to top off)
1/2 ounce simple syrup or roughly or 2 1/2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 sprig of fresh rosemary

Get a collins or highball glass and place your sprig of rosemary in it. Muddle it gently — think of it as a love tap — to get a bit more of the flavor into your glass. Next, combine all the remaining ingredients, except for the ginger beer, in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into your glass, to which you have added fresh ice. Top off with the ginger beer of your choice.

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As I mentioned above, this drink is definitely not one for sweet phobics, but it’s not at all bad if you get one of the tangier ginger beers and use enough of it. Due to some confusion, I first tried this in a smaller rocks/old fashioned glass, and it wasn’t as good. Lesson learned.

The Black Ginger reminds me somewhat of a better than average tiki drink, minus a little exoticism, with the rosemary being a nicely subtle alternative to the mint you find more often in cocktails. (If mint’s totally your thing, by the way, the Hornitos folks are also promulgating their own version of a Mint Julep…which could be the perfect thing to have during one of the many years when Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo coincide.)

I tried the Black Ginger with a couple of different brands of ginger beer, which both worked fine. However, my first night out, I used some Verner’s ginger ale — which I thought might be fine because it’s the most-gingery of the well known commercial ginger ales. It wasn’t. I know that ginger beer, which is always non-alcoholic, is comparable in price to actual beer, but you need it for this drink. Proper cocktailing is not the cheapest hobby.

  

Drink of the Week: The Rye Ball

the Rye Ball.I often praise simplicity in cocktails. This is partly because my mission in these posts is to show you how, taking very little time, you can make drinks that taste at least 100 percent better than what you’re likely to get at your typical bar. That’s because, unlike the staff of your standard dive or chain bar, you won’t use sour mix and you will have enough time to actually measure your ingredients.

The other reason I like simple cocktails is that I’m lazy! I have a day job and, while bellyaching about getting free booze in the mail and making mostly very good cocktails would be unseemly, doing the stuff that’s necessary for these posts does take a bit of time. So, especially during a week when I was recuperating from a cold I picked up on the way to Comic-Con, and then Comic-Con itself, and then the Dracula-like return of my cold, the simplest possible drink was bordering on a necessity.

Moreover, with a brand new bottle of very good Alberta Rye Dark Batch on hand after my earlier uncorking misadventure, the cleverly named Rye Ball pitched at me by the Alberta PR team seemed like the perfect beverage. It is, in fact, basically a highball (any hard liquor and any beverage, i.e., Scotch and soda, 7 and 7, rum and Coke, etc.) but with hard cider providing the fizz. A dash of bitters gives the thing some cocktailing respectability. See what you think.

The Rye Ball

1 ounce Alberta Rye Dark Batch
4-5 ounces hard cider
1 dash aromatic bitters

Build in a highball or collins glass with ice. Stir. See, I said this was simple!
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Considering the high proportion of hard cider here, your choice in this regard is obviously going to make an enormous difference. The Rye Ball is still something of a work in progress in that I have yet to find perfect pairing. Still, with a growing number of hard ciders on the market, the sky is pretty much the limit and I encourage folks to experiment with this refreshing cocktail concept.

I happen to enjoy hard ciders quite a bit, and I definitely dig them on the drier side. Still, to stand up to the whiskey and bitters, I definitely leaned towards the sweeter brews for a Rye Ball. Smith and Forge Hard Cider produced a full bodied blend, though I also enjoyed using the even sweeter Strong Bow Honey and Apple Hard Cider almost as much. No offense to the bottle of Henry Hotspur’s Hard Pressed for Cider I picked up at Trader Joe’s, but I was less partial to the result. It wasn’t bad, just a bit overly sophisticated and boozy tasting for my mood that night. I guess some part of me still expects cider to taste a little bit like apple juice.

The one thing I will say is that I strongly suggest going with four ounces of cider rather than five. I have no idea why this should be, but using more cider somehow resulted in a more medicinal flavor.

I should add, by the way, that the recipe doesn’t specify an apple cider, so feel free to try this with pear cider or whatever else you can find. While I still think Albert Rye makes a truly outstanding Old Fashioned, the Rye Ball is something of an unexplored drinking frontier, so there’s no need to be overly cautious.

  

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