Drink of the Week: The Shamrock Sour

the Shamrock Sour. Okay, we admit that St. Patrick’s Day is nearly a fortnight away, but the tireless promoters of the alcoholic industrial complex have been hard at work plying me with bottles of top-quality hooch and some intriguing holiday themed recipes to go with them. In this case, we’re talking about my personal favorite member of the Jim Beam Small batch family, Basil Hayden’s. Yes, it’s only 80 proof and therefore less overtly flavoriffic than a typical high quality bourbon, but it mixes so harmoniously, I really can’t say anything bad about it. It’s definitely one bourbon that’s worth trying with just a bit of cold water or maybe some ice cubes. Sort of like a sweeter version of a very nice Scotch.

Nor do I have anything but nice things to say about the Shamrock Sour, a lively variation on a timeless tonic developed by New York mixologist and proprietor, Julie Reiner, who appears to be something of a budding superstar in the bar game. I can’t think of a better final chapter to wrap up the quartet of delicious sours I’ve been featuring in recent weeks.

Now, I would agree with naysayers that the Irish/St. Patrick’s Day bonafides of any bourbon-based beverage are very seriously in doubt — it’s not like Kentucky is any kind of Irish-American enclave. On a more superficial level, the Shamrock Sour isn’t even particularly emerald colored, a bit of very expensive but worth it green chartreuse notwithstanding. Still, if the choice is between good taste and thematic consistency, I have to go with the taste. On the other hand, we’ll be trying out another drink using actual Irish whiskey as the big boozing day approaches. For now, however, I wholly endorse the Shamrock Sour for St. Patrick’s Day, or any other day. Authenticity, be darned.

The Shamrock Sour

2 ounces bourbon (preferably Basil Hayden’s®, naturally)
1/2 ounce green chartreuse
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce grapefruit juice, preferably fresh
1/4 ounce agave nectar
1/4 ounce water (to mix with the agave nectar)
1/4 ounce egg white
1 lemon wheel (highly desirable garnish)
1 sprig of fresh mint (even more desirable garnish)

Combine bourbon, chartreuse — a highly distinctive a-little-goes-a-long-way liqueur whose complete formula is known only to a pair of monks in France’s Chartreuse Mountains — and juice in a cocktail shaker. Mix the agave nectar with an equal amount of water to make 1/2 ounce of agave syrup. Add the egg white and, as usual with egg cocktails, shake vigorously before you have added ice.

Then, add ice, shake again very vigorously and pour over fresh ice into a fairly good size rocks glass. Add a lemon wheel and mint sprigs, which I think is actually an important part of the flavor here, particularly the mint. Toast the people of Ireland (who gave us James Joyce), the people of Kentucky (who gave us two of my favorite character of recent pop culture, Raylan Givens and Abraham Lincoln), and why not throw in those Carthusian monks and Julie Reiner while you’re at. I know I’m grateful to all of them.

****

This really is an especially well-balanced whiskey sour variation. Aside from the good booze, the agave, and the all important (though viscous and therefore tricky to measure out), egg white, the secret ingredient in here is the grapefruit. In fact, I have to credit this drink for dispelling my childish dislike of the bittersweet citrus fruit with legendarily healthy properties. I hated the stuff as a child and always remembered it as just bitter and ultra tart. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t tried eating the stuff in years. Apart from this drink, I find I now am increasingly tolerant of the stuff. It’s actually about as sweet as it is bitter, sorta kinda like the citrus equivalent of Campari or Aperol.

It’s healthy too. In fact, now I understand that grapefruit might actually help fight type 2 diabetes, an illness genetics — and my outsize enjoyment of food and drink — suggest I might fall prey to. Is it possible this is a drink that could save my life? Well, I’m definitely going to use that excuse the next time I make it.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Meyer 100 Proof Bourbon Semi-Sour

Image ALT text goes here.Corrections and retractions time. Though I totally stand behind my creation last year of the Meyer Canadian Semi-Sour, I was perhaps wrong when I described the wondrous Meyer lemon as “partly an orange.” Turns out,  it might actually be partly a Mandarin orange. That would make sense since la wiki tells us that it was once actually a primarily a houseplant in China. The humble plant’s destiny was forever changed, however, after being discovered sometime around the turn of the 20th century by a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee named Frank Nicholas Meyer.

Anyhow, with the return of the Meyer lemon to stores in my vicinity and with my recently rekindled interest in the eggier side of the sour family of cocktails, I decided to see if the juice of the more edible lemon worked as well with 100 proof bourbon as it did with the ever-so gentle, and merely 80 proof, Canadian Club I used last year. I’m happy to say that, if anything, it’s even better — as long as you like your cocktails boozy and sweet as heck.

The Meyer 100 Proof Bourbon Semi-Sour

2 ounces 100 proof (more or less) bourbon
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
1/2 large egg white
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 dash orange bitters (very optional)
1 maraschino/cocktail cherry (optional garnish)

If you’ve read my other recent sour recipes, you can probably guess what the drill will be. Combine the bourbon, juice, sugar and (if you’re using them) bitters in a cocktail shaker without ice. Shake the contents to emulsify the egg white. Then, add ice, shake a bunch more, and strain into a well chilled rocks glass. Garnish with cherry and salute the late citrus pioneer, Mr. Meyer, and mourn his untimely and mysterious passing in 1918.

*****

I used my personal default bourbon, the highly underrated, little known, and very reasonably priced Old Fitzergald’s Bonded in Bond 100 proof (aka “Old Fitzgerald Green Label”). I can’t be sure, but I suspect this recipe would also work with very high proof bourbons or something even as meek as Maker’s Mark, which I guess is going to remain 90 proof indefinitely after that brouhaha last week. (All I can say, is where were you people when Canadian Club and countless other brands went from 86 to 80 proof sometime in the 1980s or 1990s?)

Re: bitters. I originally tried using Angostura in this, but found it an unwelcome distraction. Then I tried it without bitters at all, and found the drink absolutely wonderful. Then, I tried it again with Regan’s Orange Bitters and found the drink tasted tangier and even sweeter and not quite as much to my personal liking. However, one of my test subjects here at DOTW Manor was very pleased with this version, so I’m leaving you the option of throwing the orange bitters in. Try it both ways, I say.

Finally, there is the question of how you determine that you’re using half an egg white. I’m sure there’s a way to do that with measurements — though measuring egg whites can be a hassle, or you can do like I’d probably do and just sort of eyeball it. This time, I took the easiest and least wasteful way out and just doubled up and made two Meyer 100 Proof Bourbon Semi-Sours at the same time. This is a drink worth sharing.

 

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Honolulu

the Honolulu

Last month, I was faced with the challenge of coming up with a cocktail to justify those free bottles of Booker’s and Baker’s bourbon that the Jim Beam Small Batch folks so kindly sent my way. This week, I have another — and I think even better — cocktail usage for these justifiably widely praised high-proof and moderately pricey bourbons.

The Beam folks might insist that the best way to enjoy these bourbons is with just a splash of water or an ice cube, but I think they really work well in this week’s drink. It’s a bitters-free variation on the Manhattan (originally featured on BE here) that really comes into its own with a bourbon packed with flavor, and alcohol, than on an ordinary 80-90 proofer. It’s also about as simple as a cocktail gets.

The Honolulu

1 ounce bourbon
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Lemon twist (garnish)

Combine in the bourbon and vermouth in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Depending on your preference, stir or shake (I shake) vigorously. Strain into a highly chilled cocktail glass, add the lemon twist, and drink. You may also ponder what the connection could possibly between this drink and the famed Hawaiian metropolis. I haven’t a clue.

****

At least using Booker’s or Baker’s, this is a very refined drink for people who enjoy a lot of intriguing flavors dancing across the tongue. While using the very high-proof Booker’s resulted in a gentle-yet-tongue tickling beverage with a subtly spicy flavor, I actually leaned towards the version I made with Baker’s. At 107 proof, Baker’s is practically children’s fare compared to the massive 128.5 power of Booker’s, but at least using the Martini vermouths I had on hand, the result was actually more complex and intriguing.

I did try to experiment with this drink by substituting Punt e Mes for the sweet vermouth and adding a Badabing cherry. You know how they say that most experiments fail? Stick with the traditional Honolulu. This is a cocktail that’s interesting enough to entertain the brain while powerful enough to (oh so pleasantly) dull it. No reason to mess with something this good.

Say goodnight, Gracie and Eleanor.

[Writer's note: I'd like to dedicate this post to my mother, Charlotte Bows Westal, who went on to the great Coconut Grove in the sky at age 84, shortly after this post was put together earlier this week. Mom was never a really a writer, a big drinker, or a connoisseur, but she knew the value of good grammar and a well-stocked bar -- even if she wasn't above pouring the cheap stuff into bottles of the good stuff or reading questionable bestsellers. She would have liked today's clip, too, I think. Maybe she even saw it on the big screen back in '39.]

  

Drink of the Week: The Cliquet

The CliquetIn French, “Cliquet” literally means ratchet but can also refer to something that’s looks an awful lot like a screwdriver to this highly un-handy man. Well, the cocktail called the Cliquet looks an awful lot like the orange juice and vodka highball we all know. Let me tell you, though, appearances can be highly deceptive.

The Cliquet is a somewhat mysterious classic. While the exact derivation of the name remains apparently unknown, it’s a perfect summertime drink and about as easy to make as anything you can honestly call a cocktail. After finding it to be all but indestructible through a number of iterations, I’m honestly a bit surprised that this drink isn’t as well known as it’s Anglicized screwdriving cousin. It’s also one of the very few decent cocktails that can actually travel easily in a thermos or other container, but more about that below.

The Cliquet

2 ounces rye, bourbon, or Scotch whiskey
4 ounces orange juice (fresh squeezed or “not from concentrate”)
1 teaspoon dark rum

Build your drink in an old fashioned or a Tom Collins glass. Combine ingredients with plenty of ice. Stir. Drink — no need to toast anyone special with this one, just enjoy it.

***
There was a time in my life when a screwdriver was one of my go-to drink order when I couldn’t think of anything else to ask for. Had I only known that switching out the vodka for whiskey and adding a tiny amount of dark rum could have made such a difference, I’d probably have developed my interest in good cocktails a bit earlier in life. I really am learning to love this drink.

One of the things that’s most lovable about the Cliquet is how easy it is to make and serve. While I enjoyed the versions featuring the fresh juice I personally squeezed from good ol’ California Valencia oranges — which were actually developed just miles south of the current address of Drink of the Week Central — I later found that I got results that were very nearly as good, and somewhat more reliable, using a decent brand of store bought OJ.

That ease of creation proved to be a godsend when I needed an easily portable beverage to bring to the annual Drive-in-Movie outing hosted by world famous film blogger Dennis Cozzalio of the legendary cinephile blog, Sergio Leone and the In-Field Fly Rule. I had hoped to bring the fresh squeezed Cliquet, but simply didn’t have time to squeeze out umpteen oranges. I was delighted to discover that it almost didn’t matter and was pleased to see that I was correct in that the ingredients could be easily premixed and then poured over ice on site into a plastic cup without losing its appeal. At least that’s what Dennis and I thought.

A few words about non-orange juice ingredients. As you might expect, using my beloved 100 proof Rittenhouse Rye yielded a slightly kickier concoction, while 90 proof Buffalo Trace bourbon yields sweeter, though not much less punchy results. My mom’s caregivers — and if anyone can use a drink, these hardworking ladies certainly can — seemed to prefer the version I made with some of my very nice 10-year old Glenrothes single malt Scotch. At 80 proof, I think they found to be a bit less threatening and somewhat smoother than the rye-laden version I brazenly tried out on them previously.

You should definitely feel free to experiment with different proportions. Indeed, mega-cocktail guru David Wondrich’s recipe simply calls for “a small orange juice,” whatever that may mean. Many recipes call for an almost as vague “juice of one orange” and a slightly smaller amount of booze. In any case, there’s no reason not to, yes, ratchet the quantities up and down a bit.

Wondrich also considers the Cliquet mostly appropriate for brunch, but not so much for other times. I’ll have to try actually having a Cliquet before noon on my next big vacation or small lost weekend. I have chosen an occasionally dangerous hobby, I fear.

  

Drink of the Week pre-5/5 special, part 2: the Mint Julep

the Mint Julep

We conclude our May 4, 2012 doubleheader with one of the most legendary of all cocktails and the ultimate Derby Day tradition. It’s also a drink, I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve only tried for myself in the last couple of weeks.

According to such experts as New Orleans bartender Chris MacMillian, the Mint Julep was to the 19th century what the Martini was to the 20th. As MacMillians also reminds us, this super classic drink’s roots actually go back far further — juleps were eulogized in 1634 by “Paradise Lost” poet John Milton in his “Comus,” which some of us old English majors have actually read, even if we don’t remember a word of it. Today, the bourbon, sugar and mint concoction is primarily associated with Southern belles and gents in old movies seeking a cool libation on a powerful hot day, not to mention the ultra-famed horse race which will once again be run tomorrow afternoon.

As I heard from numerous sources, however, the actual juleps served in recent years at the home of the Kentucky Derby have been anything but satisfying. If word on the cocktail street is correct, Churchill Downs has fallen prey to the #1 enemy of good cocktails — a pre-mix! Tragic, perhaps but also almost understandable given the enormous crowds who arrive each year for Derby Day. In any case, if you want a really good Mint Julep, you’ll have to go a high quality bar with a decent mixologist in residence or, of course, you may make one yourself.

The Mint Julep

2.5-3 ounces bourbon whiskey
1/2 ounce simple syrup or 1 tablespoon sugar and a splash of water
About 5-8 fresh mint leaves
Lots of ice — preferably crushed.

Combine mint leaves, simple syrup or sugar (preferably superfine or powdered) and water in a rocks/old fashioned glass or, if you have one (I don’t) a traditional metal julep glass. Gently muddle the mixture, being careful not to overdo it as, we are warned, over-muddling mint can release some displeasing bitterness. Fill up your glass with ice, add the bourbon of your choice, and stir. Toast your favorite racehorse and sip slowly.

****
There’s no doubt about it, I’m a piker when it comes to the Mint Julep. I’ve made a few decent versions of it but I don’t own the special sack — called a Lewis bag — or the mallet needed for making the crushed ice fine enough to make the julep a sort of highly alcoholic snow cone and I also don’t own a blender. Even so, this drink works fine with lots of ordinary ice, particularly if you’re a bourbon lover, as I am. I made some very good versions of it using the remainder of my Angel’s Envy — I still had some left over from my exploration of the Chicago Sour — but I had  good luck as well using some very inexpensive yet sweeter and highly drinkable Evan Williams brew. I’m sure Maker’s Mark or really any brand of bourbon you like a lot would work delightfully.

The only problems I encountered were when I tried to dial back the sweetness. None other than James Bond in “Goldfinger” ordered his drink tart. When I tried it that way, the flavors simply didn’t come together. Just because you own a license to kill and save the world once a year doesn’t mean you know everything.

Of course, I don’t know everything either. Something tells me the drink, as prepared a bit differently from me by Chris MacMillian himself below, was really something.

  

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