Drink of the Week: El Presidente

El PresidenteThe name of today’s DOTW notwithstanding, this post is not brought to you by the ongoing Republican primary or anything else happening in the world of U.S. or Latin American politics. Instead, we all should thank the good people of Denizen Rum. As always, I appreciate the free bottle but I also appreciate the very reasonable price tag for a fifth which, depending on taxes in your area, might give you enough change from a $20.00 for a Double-Double at In ‘n Out. That’s something because this is tasty stuff, a bit more sophisticated and complex than your standard Bacardi, but in the friendliest way.

On to the cocktail, which was supposedly invented by a Yankee bartender working in Cuba. As per Wayne Curtis, back when little Fidel Castro was not even old enough for his first game of sandlot baseball, Cuba’s somewhat beleaguered President Gerardo Machado, offered one of these to our own el presidente, Republican Calvin Coolidge. Silent Cal remembered that there was this thing called prohibition going on and politely declined.

Nice story, but my first attempt at the drink seemed to explain why El Presidente has become a relic stateside. I found the classical recipes to be sweet to the point of being cloying — and that’s something considering my sweet tooth.

I therefore followed the lead of booze blogger Matt Robold and halved one sweet ingredient, orange curacao, at his suggestion. I liked that version better but I decided to also halve the amount of grenadine he suggested. I found something close to perfection when made with the Denizen rum. This version works slightly less well with plain old Bacardi, but it’s still very nice.

El Presidente (impeached, but not deposed)

1.5 ounces white rum
3/4 ounce dry vermouth
1/4 ounce orange curacao
1/4 teaspoon grenadine
1 orange twist (garnish)

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker. If you want to be traditional, stir for a very long time over crushed or cracked ice, or you can do like I do and shake it vigorously, though the drink might not look as pretty if you do. Your call.

Strain into our old friend, the chilled martini/cocktail glass. Fire up original mambo king Perez Prado on the music player of your choice, imagine a day when Cuban cigars are no longer contraband, and have a sip.

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If you want to go more traditional/way sweeter, the classic version offered by cocktail super-historian David Wondrich simply doubles the amount of curacao, and I think 1/4 of a teaspoon is probably the same as the “dash” of grenadine he suggests. I will say that, while I loved my version of the drink, at no point was I able to achieve the orange color the drink has in most (but not all) photos. Mine was more of a pale pinkish hue somewhat as you see above, even with just a tiny amount of very sweet, very red grenadine. It tasted amazing, so I can live with that.

One quick suggestion, if you are determined to go with the full 1/2 ounce of orange sweet stuff, you might do as some have suggested and substitute Cointreau for the curacao. It’s not bad.

 

  

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Drink of the Week: The Champagne Cocktail

the Champagne CocktailI’ve never made any bones about the fact that I’m a lazy bartender who, for reasons of taste and well as convenience, likes to keep my cocktails simple. Still, for this New Year’s weekend edition of DOTW I’m hitting a new high in simplicity and also using the official beverage of the coming holiday as our key ingredient. Make no mistake, however, as simple as it is, this week’s drink is an entirely legitimate and very classic cocktail. It’s also, in my opinion, delicious.

How classic? Well, a variation of it was featured in what appears to be the first cocktail guide published in 1862 and authored by bartender Jerry Thomas, who defined cocktails as containing spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. (This drink lacks only the additional water.)

I first became aware of this particular concoction, I imagine, the first time I saw Claude Rains order one for himself and one for a displeased Paul Henreid in “Casablanca.” I’ve been curious about it ever since, but I only bothered to look up what was in it this year. I only tried it, well, just a couple of nights ago but I immediately fell in love with it. Yes, some might call making a cocktail out of fine champagne gilding the lily, but who can afford fine champagne these days?

The Champagne Cocktail

Champagne or other Brut (dry) sparkling white wine
1 sugar cube
Aromatic bitters
Lemon twist (optional garnish)

Soak a sugar cube in your bitters — Angostura is traditional but I had equally good luck using Fee Brothers Old Fashioned aromatic, which has a slightly gentler flavor — and then place it at the bottom of a champagne flute, if you’ve got one, or a regular wine glass if you don’t. Pour in your champagne, chilled of course. Do not attempt to mix the sugar cube with the champagne as the gradual decay of your sugar cube will actually be adding extra fizz and visual interest to your beverage along with a very, very slight dash of sweetness. If you want, rim the glass with your lemon twist and toss it in. Toast which ever year, old or new, you prefer.

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Classic though it be, I gather from David Wondrich that the Champagne Cocktail has long had detractors who argue that good champagne should be left alone. They probably have a point if you’re drinking a $150.00 bottle of Dom Perignon. I however, was drinking a really not so bad $7.99 sparkling white from Spain — which I dare not call Champagne for fear of offending the French — and I greatly enjoyed the extra flavor, subtle though it be, and the additional fizz.

On that last point, Rachel Maddow informs us that making Champagne cocktails is the perfect way to revive somewhat flat, left-over bubbly. If that doesn’t justify the existence of this fine beverage, I don’t know what would, and it certainly makes it a fine way to keep your News Year’s festivities going for as long as you can manage.

  

Spotlight on Booze: Canadian Whisky

Make no mistake, this is not only your dad’s but also your grandfather’s whiskey. Depending on your age and where your family was during prohibition, it might even be your great-great-grandfather and/or grandmother’s whiskey. Say what you like about Canadian whisky, it’s stood the test of time.

Sometimes referred to, particularly in Canada, as rye despite the fact that it’s primarily made with corn spirits, Canadian whisky, unlike now resurgent American rye whiskey, never threatened to go away. Still, while some uninformed bartenders still think rye is just the name of a type of Jewish bread, it’s the rare bar that doesn’t stock Seagram’s V.O., Canadian Club, Crown Royal and often Black Velvet. Its the even rarer connoisseur or cocktail aficionado who will admit to being excited about them, with some liquor snobs deriding Canadian as “brown vodka.” Following their lead, younger drinkers who have taken to premium brands of bourbon and Scotch, have largely ignored it. That’s not to say unassuming Canadian Whisky has no fans among the cognoscenti. We kind of love it and no less an authority than cocktail historian David Wondrich suggests Canadian Club — a value-priced favorite of ours — as the perfect vehicle for an Old Fashioned, the most purist-friendly whiskey cocktail we know.

In any case, pop culture seems to be slowly becoming more aware of American rye whiskey’s almost-as-retro northern cousin. The 2008 primary elections saw Hillary Clinton swigging a much-discussed shot of Crown Royal, the very smooth Chivas Regal of Canadian. Though the label is angled so that the logo is just slightly out of our view, it’s clear that Canadian Club — first brewed by distilling legend Hiram Walker — is Donald Draper’s poison of choice on “Mad Men.” (In the first episode, newbie secretary Peggy Olson is informed that rye is the same as Canadian, and told it’s what her new boss drinks.) It also sure looks to be Canadian Club that washing up on the Jersey shore in HBO’s bootlegging themed early gangland drama, “Boardwalk Empire.” By law, Canadian whisky must be aged at least three years, though Canadian Club and Seagram’s V.O. are both aged for six

In fact, the popularity of Canadian whisky — which many insist must be spelled sans “e” — in the U.S. goes back to those dark days for everyone but gangsters between 1920 and 1933 when the sale and manufacture of liquor was illegal in the land of free and home of the brave, but thoroughly legal up north. Jewish-Canadian entrepreneur and liquor distributor Samuel Bronfman became wealthy and powerful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams by staying more or less on the right side of the law while doing business with the likes of Al Capone. He purchased Joseph E. Seagram’s and Sons and launched what became, for a time, a massive commercial and media empire. (It’s worth noting that the line’s flagship brand, Seagram’s 7 Crown, best known as the non-7-Up ingredient in a “7 and 7,” is not technically Canadian whisky. The U.S. version, at least, is bottled in Indiana and marketed as “an American whiskey,” whatever that is.)

Since it’s primarily blended and is generally not a very complex kind of a whiskey, it’s likely that Canadian will never have the cachet of bourbon, rye, or Scotch, but its hipness quotient may be improving slightly. Canadian Club has shrewdly played on its history with a series of attention-grabbing print ads with the slogan “Damn right, your dad drank it.” The ads alluded to the allegedly racy lifestyles of fathers of yore and used actual family photographs from Canadian Club employees.

As for cocktail and liquor aficionados, New York Times writer Robert Simonson blogged some time ago that his contacts in the gourmet and mixology worlds became obviously bored at the mere mention of Canadian whisky. However, Simonson’s April 2011 article details how there are real changes brewing in the world of Canadian booze. He specifically cites the highly acclaimed Forty Creek distillery and also attempts by better known makers of Canadian whiskey to brew blends that will appeal to drinkers used to the more complex flavors of today’s premium whiskeys.

Forty Creek does appear to be the most prevalent of the “new style” Canadian whisky manufacturers and we were able to pick up a bottle on sale at out local big-box beverage emporium. Our reaction was a bit mixed; we still think Canadian Club is more tasty and given its extremely low price, difficult to beat. Even so, we anxiously await the arrival of more and better Canadian whiskys. It’s time to see if our polite and funny friends to our north can create some premium whiskeys that will give some real competition to Kentucky and Tennessee, not to mention Scotland and Ireland.

  

Drink of the Week: The Mojito

the mojito Yes, I’ve been putting it off. Forgive me, I know not why I waited. The Mojito might be the trendiest drink going right now and there are the usual cocktail abuses committed by misguided bars, but overall it’s the kind of booze trend that even a staunch cocktail classicist can support.

Like so many classic cocktails, this venerable Cuban creation is a sturdy drink — great in the hot, moistish weather we’re still kinda sorta having in Southern California — that can bear a number of variations and is actually quite easy to make. And, or so the Wikipedians tell us, it’s possibly a relatively ancient drink and was even approved of by the Cuba and daiquiri loving Ernest Hemingway. What other encouragement do you need?

The Mojito

2 ounces light rum
1/2 to 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice/wedges
1-3 teaspoons superfine sugar
2-5 sprigs of fresh mint
1-2 ounces (approx.) club soda or seltzer (sparkling water)

Combine lime juice and sugar — use more sugar to go with more lime juice or less to go with less — with mint in the bottle of an old fashioned glass or, perhaps, a smallish collins glass. Muddle enough to mix the sugar and juice and also lightly smash the mint leaves; they need not be pulverized. Add ice — very preferably crushed ice. Also add the spent lime wedges from your juicing. Stir vigorously with a swizzle stick or bar spoon — enough to melt some of the ice. Then, top off with a small amount of club soda or plain sparking water/seltzer and stir a bit more. It’s important to remember that last step. I know because I forgot a couple of times and wondered what was missing. Without just a dash of sparkle, a mojito fails to come alive.

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Though I provided a fair amount of flexibility above, there really are an enormous number of ways to skin the mojito cat and the ‘net provides no end of options. Even so, the simplest way I found was demonstrated by Rachel Maddow on a recent segment highlighted by this reasonable thought: “nuns deserve good drinks.” Her version was fairly similar to the way I make a caipirinha and involved less squeezing and measuring and definitely called for a wide-bottomed rocks glass on account of some heavy duty muddling. You basically just cut up a lime, throw in an entire tablespoon of sugar (!) and smash the heck out of it along with the mint leaves.

I found that version worked very nicely, but I was, to my own surprise, actually drawn more to the more squeezey/less smashy low lime juice and low sugar version promulgated by David Wondrich. If you keep the lime juice to 1/2 ounce, the natural sweetness of the rum and just one teaspoon of sugar is plenty to create a really full bodied refreshment. Still, the other ways are not one bit bad. There are doubtless many roads to mojito hell, most of them involving sour mix or who knows what other kinds of chemical monstrosities, but just as many paths to mojito enlightenment.

  

Drink of the Week: The Daiquiri

http://blog.bullz-eye.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/213ba60487turale-200x3001.jpgToday it’s a milestone at Drink of the Week as we’re leaving behind our old friends whiskey, gin, and vodka for that tropical favorite, rum. Nevertheless, we’re holding on to our classical cocktail standards, so you may abandon all thoughts of blenders.

This is not the ultra-sweet ice-based monstrosity of a strawberry daiquiri that you’ll find at your local Bennigan’s/El Torito/Acapulco/TGIFriday or the devastatingly alcoholic quasi-Slurpees sold by hole-in-the-wall vendors on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Nope, at the risk of sounding like a complete snob, this is the more civilized, yet refreshing — and vastly less fattening — beverage reportedly named either for a Cuban beach or an iron mine and favored by Ernest Hemingway and John F. Kennedy. The former personage is a lot more popular in post-revolutionary Cuba than the latter, but that’s another story.

Here’s the drink:

The Daiquiri

2 ounces rum
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
Lime or orange wedge (optional garnish)

Mix sugar with room temperature lime juice. Add rum and plentiful ice to your cocktail shaker. Shake very vigorously and strain into a chilled martini glass. It’s not really necessary, but you can garnish it with a lime wedge, or an orange slice if you’d like an extra touch of sweetness. You can add a little more sugar if you like, but remember that rum has, for a hard liquor, a lot of built-in sweetness. It will taste even better with Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo’s Afro-Cuban classic, Manteca, playing in the background.

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I’ve tried this a few ways, but I’m happy to say this is a rather indestructible drink if you don’t mess with it too much. Most recipes call very specifically for light rum, but it was only slightly less good when I tried it with gold rum. Cocktail historian David Wondrich says you can also use the even sweeter and more complex dark rums, but cut back some on the sugar. Since I ultimately determined that his recipe was better than those I found in several other places calling for more lime juice and sugar, I imagine he’s right about that, too.

  

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