2013 Holiday Gift Guide: Booze

Walk into any liquor store and you’ll see hundreds of options. You can zero in on someone’s favorite drink when picking a gift, or you can get creative and choose something they wouldn’t buy for themselves. Also, remember that you don’t want to come to a party empty-handed, so get in the habit of at least bringing a bottle.

And for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Craft Beer Club

If you have a beer lover on your list, you can give him or her the gift that keeps on giving. The Craft Beer Club discovers exceptional craft brews from around the country and delivers them each month direct to you or your gift recipient. Every selection is produced by small-production, independent brewers who use only traditional brewing ingredients and time-honored brewing methods. In addition to traditional bottled beers, they also embrace the hundreds of small craft brewers around the country that offer their hand-crafted beers in cans. It’s a great way to enjoy craft beers and it’s ideal for the holiday season.

Laphroaig 10 Year Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

If dad, your buddy, your tomboyish gal pal or anyone else on your holiday list loves a very good bottle of Scotch, then consider this rather dandy, unusually enjoyable single malt. Outstanding on the rocks, with a splash of water or soda, or neat for you purists, the Laphroaig 10 Year Old is also more mixable than you might assume; on the other hand, it’s good enough that many will consider even the finest cocktail made with it a crime against nature. The website tells us that it’s got traces of salt and seaweed along with the usual peat and smoke flavors, but we don’t completely agree. It’s definitely got smoke – indeed, you might get hungry for barbecue after you take a good whiff and, yeah, that’s some salt in there, but that’s not all. Every good Scotch has its share of several indescribable tastes and smells of nature. We haven’t been to Scotland, but we wouldn’t be one bit surprised to find ourselves tasting the essence of this concoction in the clear cool air of the highlands. Cheaper than super-duper premium single malts but nearly double what you’ll likely pay for Chivas Regal, this is an outstanding gift for a true blue Scotch enthusiast.

Brugal 1888 Dominican Rum

If you’re in search of a bottle for the man or woman who’s drunk everything, Brugal 1888 is something genuinely new under the sun and it’s completely remarkable. An aged Dominican rum that thinks it’s a premium Scotch or Bourbon, it has the tantalizing, woody and astringent flavor you might get in very a high-end single malt, plus a hint of something that somehow reminds us of our dad’s old fake-leather chair. (That’s a good thing, believe it or not.) At the exact same time, it has a boldly sugary undertone that goes well beyond what you’re likely to find in the sweetest bourbon. We tasted more than a hint of maple syrup or maybe turbinado. Regardless, it’s delicious and probably not like anything you’ve had before. You can drink this on the rocks, with a bit of water, or neat. You can also put on your mixologist hat and go to town as this is a flexible beverage that won’t be out of place in an Old Fashioned, especially if you use real maple syrup in place of the usual sugar or simple syrup. High priced for rum but worth every gosh darn penny, this is one boozy gift that won’t be forgotten.

Cabo Diablo

This is the best new spirit we’ve tried in a long time. Cabo Wabo is known now just as much for its excellent tequilas as it is for its founder Sammy Hagar, and this new Cabo Diablo should attract many more fans. Cabo Diablo features a delicious coffee flavor and tastes amazing when you drink it straight. It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and it’s not think and syrupy like some liqueurs. So it’s a fantastic sipping drink that men and women should both enjoy. But better yet, it’s a tequila, so it’s also a great way to get a party going, as tequila makes everyone a little nuts at times. It is made with 100% blue agave Cabo Wabo Silver tequila, then kicks in notes of fresh roasted coffee, vanilla and chocolate for a striking combination. It’s excellent served chilled or on the rocks. With the holidays around the corner, this makes for a great gift for men and women, and it’s a great bottle to bring to a gathering to get the party started!

Read the rest of this entry »

  

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Drink of the Week: The Clover Leaf (The Clover Club Trilogy Concludes!)

The Clover Leaf. It’s just about Labor Day weekend and today we have one cocktail that I’ve really labored over. In fact, if you’ve been paying very close attention, you’ve been following us through two different versions of an old and, I think, under-appreciated pre-prohibition era drink named after a social club of rich guys from Philadelphia with, I gather, pretty decent taste in beverages.

In the way of nearly all trilogies, today’s drink brings us full circle. I started this series out by musing how a Gibson differed from a Martini only in terms of a garnish, switching out the usual lemon twist or olive in favor of a cocktail onion. The Clover Leaf  differs from the Clover Club only in that it includes an actual leaf as a garnish, but not — and I’m sure this is for very good reason — an actual Clover Leaf. This recipe, however, does contain other alterations in the recipe from prior weeks, but I’ll explain about that on the flip side.

The Clover Leaf

1 1/2-2 ounces gin
1/2-3/4 ounce fresh lemon or lime juice
1/4 ounce grenadine (or raspberry syrup…but never with lime juice!)
1 egg white
1 sprig of fresh mint

Once again, combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and “dry shake” the drink without adding any ice to emulsify the egg white good and proper. Then, add plenty of ice and shake very vigorously. Then, of course, you strain the resulting beverage into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the fresh mint sprig. I’ll let you come up with your own toast this time.

******
You might recall from a couple of weeks back that I found Robert Hess’s recipe from The Essential Cocktail Guide a bit much for my tart-sensitive taste buds, even with all that wonderfully frothy egg white. This week, however, I noticed that some recipes I was seeing online called for a full two ounces of gin instead of the 1.5 ounces I’ve been calling for. As the Clover Club is a relatively mild drink, with just one type of booze included in an entirely reasonable amounts, and as I had finally finished my enormous bottle of 94 proof Beefeater Gin and had switched to merely 86 proof Bombay Dry, it seemed to make sense to try the Clover Leaf with a tiny bit more gin.

What I found was that the slightly increased booze cut the tartness level just enough that using the full 3/4 ounce of lemon juice was now not only acceptable, but kind of delightful. In fact, while the vast majority of the Clover Clubs and Clover Leafs I’ve made using both grenadine and Torani raspberry syrup have also been delightful, the last one I made, using 3/4 ounce lemon juice and raspberry syrup, might well have been the best of them all.

A couple of additional notes on ingredients: I used Master of Mixes grenadine, which contains the oh-so-hated high fructose corn syrup but also has, we’re told, real cherry and (the key ingredient) pomegranate juice. I haven’t tried the other mass market brands like Rose’s, but I have a feeling that the more real pomegranate juice, the better and, as far as I can tell, they don’t have any actual juice at all. Feel free to spend a bit more on a more upscale grenadine or go crazy and make your own — it’s your delicious funeral. Also, a quick caveat emptor as I was just Googling around and found the Master of Mixes product for the criminally inflated price of $23.00 and above at some places online. I paid, I’m pretty sure, $3.99 or less or so at BevMo for mine.

Finally, it occurs to me that I haven’t really discussed the effect of the name-changing garnish in the Clover Leaf, that sprig of mint. I have to say that, even though I was using literally the freshest possible mint — no thanks to me, there’s some growing in the backyard of the Drink of the Week ‘Plex — it really didn’t alter the flavor of the beverage very much, give or take some nice minty fragrance. On the other hand, it sure did make the drink look pretty.

  

Drink of the Week: The Clover Club (The Rasp-Wiki Take)

The Clover Club (again). If you have a deep aversion to déjà vu, I advise you to take a break from today’s and, yes, next week’s posts. (I haven’t decided yet about the week after that!)

You see, I’ve always been fascinated by how seemingly very small changes in cocktails can make very big differences. I also was, to be honest, fairly embarrassed to find out at close to the last minute last week that the Clover Club recipes I got from two bonafide cocktail book classics, Harry Craddock’s prohibition era Savoy Cocktail Book and Robert Hess’s vastly more recent The Essential Cocktail Guide, could be seen as  minority takes on the drink.

It turned out that most of the presumably classic recipes I found online, such as the one featured on Wikipedia, suggested rather strongly that raspberry syrup, not grenadine, was the default sweetener/pinker-upper for this refreshing, too little known cocktail treat. I basically had to try this version out, and so we have today’s pinker, tangier take on the Clover Club.

What’s the difference between a little grenadine or a little raspberry syrup? I’ll tell you on the flip side.

The Clover Club (the Rasp-Wiki Take)

1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2-3/4 ounces fresh lemon juice
1 egg white
1/4 ounce raspberry syrup

Once again, we combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, sans ice. Once again, we shake the luke-cool concoction to properly emulsify the egg. Once that’s done, we add some ice and shake again, very vigorously, to add much needed ice water to the mix. Then, it’s naturally time to strain the drink into a chilled cocktail glass. Our toast? How about to second (and third) chances?

******

So, which is better, the grenadine or the raspberry syrup iteration? If I had to choose, I think I’d go with last week’s grenadine. This raspberry adds a delightful tang I really enjoyed, but it was less sturdy in the sense it doesn’t really stand up to as much variation. Last week, I found my favorite version employed 3/4 of an ounce of lime juice although (a bit less) lemon juice was just fine. This time around, I’m counseling readers to skip the lime completely. For me at least, it just didn’t work. Lime juice has some additional flavors that just don’t blend with the raspberry.

My favorite version of this drink, however, did use the entire 3/4 ounce of lemon juice, which I suppose is odd given my tart-phobia. I’m guessing there’s something about the dryness of the lemon juice blending with the tangier raspberry-derived flavor. Ultimately, it’s a mystery.

And, speaking of mysteries, yes, will be trying another ever-so-slight variation of this week’s beverage next week. Next time around, we introduce something entirely new…a garnish! Stay tuned.

  

Drink of the Week: The Clover Club (The Hess/Craddock Take, Modified)

The Clover Club. Sometimes the difference between one drink and another is miniscule. Take a Martini and put a cocktail onion in it instead of an olive or a lemon twist and it is miraculously transformed into a Gibson. On the other hand, recipes for the same basic cocktail can have vary so dramatically that you wonder how the results can even be compared, much less go under the same name.

That’s what I’m realizing right now as I’ve been spending the week trying variations on a recipe I first found in Robert Hess’s 2008 The Essential Cocktail Guide and then found in Harry Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book. Things got interesting when, too late for today’s post, I turned to my old pal Google and found that there is another version of today’s drink that might be a completely different taste experience entirely because of a difference in one key ingredient. I can’t dismiss it either because all signs point to it being every bit as much a classic, whatever that may mean, as today’s recipe. So, I guess we’ll have to revisit today’s drink again next week, except it won’t really be the same drink. Work, work, work.

In the meantime, here is my take on a drink which apparently goes back to a club for gentlemen — presumably no ladies allowed — in pre-Prohibition Philadelphia. As far as I’m concerned it’s a crime to deprive either gender of this liquid delight.

The Clover Club Cocktail (Craddock, Hess, Westal)

1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice or 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/4 ounce grenadine
1 egg white

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake without ice to properly emulsify the egg white. Then add ice and shake again to properly chill the concoction. Strain into a frosty-cold cocktail glass and toast the endless wonder and complexity of life and cocktails.

***

The Craddock recipe calls for the juice of 1/2 lemon or an entire lime — and goodness knows why bartenders in the day thought that was an acceptable instruction given the obvious reality that lemons and limes don’t all yield the exact same amount of juice. The vastly more recent Hess recipe calls for simply 3/4 of an ounce of lemon juice, but that came out a lot more tart than I like. It was time to play around with the proportions.

While using a mere 1/4 ounce lemon juice yielded too simple a drink, I found that 1/2 an ounce was darn nice. On the other hand, a full 3/4 ounce of less aggressively tart lime juice was the nicest of all. I could have gone for a slightly sweeter drink, but I found that cutting the lime juice down to 1/2 an ounce only resulted in a less lively beverage.

At least that’s what I thought. I certainly would never discourage anyone from adjusting the lemon or lime juice upwards or downwards to their taste. I will say, however, that you have to use some lemon or lime juice because, if you don’t, you’ll have a Pink Lady on your hands. I’m saving that one for some time when out of citrus completely.

  

Drink of the Week: The White Elephant (a la Wondrich)

the White Elephant.I sing now, for the umpteenth time, of the raw egg white, feared by many, adored by classic cocktail aficionados, and a sure way to get me to sit up and pay attention to almost any cocktail.

That’s a good thing, because this week’s drink could definitely use a little love. I stumbled over it at the massive bevatorium assembled by David Wondrich for Esquire and was immediately grabbed by the drink’s eggy simplicity. I was also struck by the immense terseness of the usually voluble Wondrich’s eight-word take: “A wet martini with a head; see the Hearst.”

What could a drink do to be both worthy of inclusion, yet apparently unworthy of sufficient verbiage — or even a reasonably accurate graphic? Was both Wondrich and the Esquire art department tired and on deadline? Was he forced to grudgingly submit to pressure to include this drink from the vast and shadowy gin-sweet vermouth-and-egg-white-industrial-complex?

Finally, why was every other cocktail I could find on line called “White Elephant” a completely different concoction that usually involved ingredients like coconut milk, white creme de cacao, heavy cream, white rum, and other things that are very, very white and nothing but white? This drink, as my brilliant photographic work reveals, is not precisely white, as elephants go. What gives? Who knows, but clearly the first thing to do is try the damn drink.

The White Elephant a la Wondrich

2 ounces gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 egg white
1 cherry (garnish)

The drill is basically the same as for every cocktail involving egg whites or eggs. Combine the gin, vermouth, and egg white in a cocktail shaker, but with no ice. Shake well to emulsify the egg, then add ice and really shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or reasonable facsimile. Add a cherry for a bit of extra sweetness and color, and toast the pachyderm of your choice.

******

I have to say that while I thoroughly enjoy this drink and find it nicely refreshing yet neither too sweet nor too anything else, I can see what it maybe hasn’t taken off and has become, yes, a white elephant of a mixed drink. It’s not really sweet enough for the sweets lovers, nor is it boozy, complex, bitter, or tart enough for many a cocktail snob. It’s nevertheless got plenty of booze in it, and the combination of egg white, liquid, and ice guarantees it all goes down in the most delightful way. A wet martini not only with a head, but with a wonderfully comfy ova cushion.

I did try messing around a bit with ingredients and proportions. Lowering the amount of gin by half an ounce didn’t really hurt the drink, but the increase in sweetness turned out to be minimal. The results using both of my two fall back sweet vermouths, Noilly-Pratt and Carpano Antica, were just fine, though this time I leaned ever so slightly towards the lighter touch of Noilly-Pratt. Still, the only really wrong move I made was adding bitters. So often, bitters can really save a drink; sometimes, however, it’s just the reverse.

So, why is the White Elephant so benighted that even a chatty cocktail historian has almost nothing to say about it? I think it’s the name. Not only is it unflattering, it’s inaccurate. This elephant is not white. It’s another color entirely.

  

Related Posts