Drink of the Week: Bitters & Blonde

Bitters & Blonde.After kinda sorta creating four new classic cinema inspired cocktails, I’m definitely ready to take it easy this week with a cocktail that’s about as simple as cocktails get. It’s actually worse that that because I readily admit that this oh-so-easy recipe has been spoon-fed to me, along with some very nice photography and Papa Pilar’s rather exquisite Blonde Rum.

I’ve featured this outstanding new brand before but it deserves another go. It’s truly flavorful stuff, no mere mixer, with a delightful mega-hints of vanilla and molasses. It’s part of an exciting trend of new high-end rums, and we’ll be working with some more of those in the not very distant future.

In the meantime, just to show you I’m not entirely a tool of big premium booze, I’ll admit that I don’t think this week’s drink is necessarily the absolute best way to enjoy¬† Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum. On the other hand, it’s a very nice way to enjoy it and perfect for the heat wave that’s engulfing Southern California as I write today’s post. If only it could fix my air conditioning.

Bitters & Blonde

1 1/2 ounces Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum
3 ounces ginger beer
Angostura or other aromatic bitters
1 lime wedge (garnish)

Build this drink over plentiful crushed ice in a Tom Collins glass. Add the rum and the ginger beer and, if you feel the need, stir gently. (They’ll get together on their own even if you don’t.) Top with as much bitters as you think wise and stir no more. Toss in the lime wedge if you like.

You sip this cocktail through the bitters in the same you sip through the cream at the top of an Irish coffee. As you enjoy the icy concoction toast the fact that, while you might have to crush your own ice to follow this recipe strictly, at least you probably don’t have to buy it from an ice man like your great-grandpa had to.

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As I alluded to just now, the only slightly tricky aspect of this drink is coming up with the crushed ice if, like me, you don’t have a crushed ice-maker and are making an aversion to blenders into your personal trademark. What works best for me these days is putting ice into a plastic bag and whacking it with a hammer-like implement of some sort…but not too hard. You don’t want to break the bag and send all the ice flying, which happens a great deal of the time if you’re not careful.

I tried Bitters & Blonde with a few different brands of ginger beer — a generally delicious product that also happens to be just as expensive as many brands of actual beer. All my attempts came out about the same regardless of the ginger beer though, and that’s because the bitters tend to dominate. In fact, I enjoyed my Bitters & Blonde more when I switched from uber-ubiquitous Angostura to Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic Bitters. I found it imparted an almost peppermint-like back taste that worked well with the rest of it.

Still, this drink might not be for you if you’re not mad about bitters. If you prefer a more subtle use of the stuff — and even if you don’t — may I suggest an Old Fashioned with the Papa Pilar Blonde?

Just muddle a teaspoon full of sugar (I used turbinado) with just a dash or two of bitters (Fee Brothers, I’d suggest) and an orange slice in a rocks glass. Next, add two teaspoons of soda water and lots of ice, and, finally 2 ounces of the Papa Pilar’s Blonde and stir. If you can go wrong with that one, I have no help for you.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Dark and Stormy

The Dark and Stormy.I wouldn’t exactly compare my experience trying to come up with a version of the Dark and Stormy that I could really love to my personal Vietnam. Afghanistan, maybe? Nah, but the more time I spent on it, it was clear that what started out seeming like a noble effort was a truly fruitless endeavor.

That’s not to say I think you should avoid the Dark and Stormy. If the ingredients sound good to you, give it a whirl. In fact, if you make at the proportions below, I think it’s a reasonable alternative to a gin and tonic, which is not a bad thing at all. It’s just that I think this drink ought to be more of a sweet and sour super-treat, given its ingredients. Somehow, however, the bitter and tart flavors always seem to predominate and it just never quite comes together.

Below, for what it’s worth, is the best version of this I’ve found based on many experiments. For some reason, it’s a pretty close approximation of the Wondrich take. It’s not a classic in any sense as far as I can tell, but it’s drinkable.

The Dark and Stormy

2 ounces dark rum
3 ounces ginger beer (add more if you like, but I don’t think it will be an improvement)
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

Combine ingredients in a Collins glass — a big rocks glass may be just as good — with ice and stir. Drink and see if it weathers the storm for you.

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As I mentioned above, I tried this drink in an enormous number of iterations, taking a few sips and dumping nearly whole drinks and killing nearly half of the Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, the more or less official rum of the Dark and Stormy, on which I spent $18.00 of my own money. Nearly as expensive as the ginger beer.

Yeah, you read that right. When I made the similar but, to my taste buds, far sturdier Moscow Mule for this blog some time ago, I accurately joked that ginger beer, which is in the same non-alcoholic family as ginger ale and root beer, can cost more than actual beer. That’s true. This time, though, I tried three brands all hailing from the Dark and Stormy’s mother island of Bermuda. They’re actually kind of worth the money. Gosling’s has their own brand, which is tasty enough and a bit cheaper. But I really, really dug both the classic Burmudan option of Barritt’s and I really, really, really, super dug Regatta Ginger Beer. A really top-notch soda with a lot of tastes going on in it, including a zesty aftertaste I can’t quite identify.

Sadly, however, when I actually combined the ginger beer with my approved brand of rum, as described above, the result wasn’t some kind of delightful alchemy — just another okay kind of a mixed drink. Since David Wondrich had mentioned that Bermudans generally limited the lime to simply a garnish and basically just had a ginger beer and rum highball, I tried it that way and found it not much better or even particularly sweeter, which was weird. I tried it with Cruzan Black Strap Rum which I’ve had got luck with earlier but that was, frankly, a non-starter. Then I tried my usual fall back dark rum of Whaler’s. Not bad, but it was, in fact, better with Gosling’s.

I will say there are two things you should not do that I actually tried. You should not attempt a Dark and Stormy with ginger ale. The results are surprisingly almost nasty. Moving on, you should definitely not use Rose’s Lime Juice , which is sweetened, and ginger ale. This was actually given to me in an impromptu attempt by me to request the drink at a local nightclub. The club will remain nameless, as it’s actually a very good place to see live bands and it was my fault for not specifying that the lime juice shouldn’t be sweetened.

On the other hand, the perkiest version of this that I’ve tasted was made at the very good Westside Tavern on Pico Boulevard, over the hill from Drink of the Week Central. This high end Dark and Stormy was not even made with ginger beer, but with a house made ginger puree,¬† which definitely upped the ginger flavor. Not bad.

Is it getting to the point where I can only patronize craft bars?

  

Drink of the Week: The Pimm’s Cup

Pimm's CupLike Campari, Sambuca, and the like, Pimm’s Cup #1 is a bottle you’ll see at a lot of bars but which, at least here in the States, no bartender ever seems to open and which most barfolk will tend to discourage you from trying. They have their reasons because, on its own, it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s a concoction of gin and various herbs that has a nicely sweet but also fairly bitter flavor. It’s somewhere between a liqueur and Angostura.

It may be a little harsh straight, but it can mix very accessibly. A popular cocktail classic in the UK that has been referenced on both “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire,” Pimm’s Cup, the cocktail, combines this relatively low alcohol (50 proof) base spirit with various types of soda and fruit and vegetable garnishes.

In my experiments, I avoided some of the very elaborate recipes which are more like very large and very wet fruit salads and eventually settled on the simple recipe below, adapted freely from the method used by Minneapolis mixologist D.J. Kukielka. It’s a winner — a tasty refreshment for lightweights with discerning palettes.

The Pimm’s Cup

2 ounces Pimm’s Cup #1
4 ounces (approximately) ginger beer or ginger ale
Cut-up cucumber (to taste)
Cucumber slice (garnish)
Lemon slice (garnish)

Place cucumbers in cocktail shaker and muddle. (Having an actual muddler on hand is a real help here, and essential if you want a truly well-stocked bar.) Add Pimm’s Cup #1 and ice. Shake very vigorously and strain into a Tom Collins glass over ice (preferably crushed). Top off with ginger ale and garnishes. Stir with swizzle stick or barspoon.

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I’m barely exaggerating when I say that there are a million recipes for this beverage on line, and they’re all pretty different from each other, which I suppose befits a drink that is something like the British equivalent of sangria. I get the impression that you could pretty much throw any fruit you can think of in, if you want. Still, I had by far the best luck with the recipe above and, though it’s more expensive, ginger beer does work slightly better than good old Canada Dry.

If you want to be really authentic, however, be aware that the original recipes often call for lemonade. The confusion here is that what the British call lemonade and what we Yanks call it are two different things. UK lemonade is a lemon soda which some compare to 7-Up — and many online recipes specially call for American-style lemon-lime soda — but Brits inform us that true British lemon soda tastes fairly different than our uncolas. If you’re lucky enough to live in a city like Los Angeles with a large British ex-pat population and specialty stores to go with it, or want to go online and don’t mind spending a little extra cash, I bet you can find some and go full Brit.

  

Drink of the Week: The Moscow Mule

Moscow MuleSummertime weather has kicked into high gear much earlier than usual in the greater Los Angeles area and it’s hot as we write these words at Drink of the Week Central. So, it’s as good a time as any to celebrate an appropriately cold and refreshing, and actually perfectly delightful, semi-classic cocktail that was invented in New York but popularized in what is now incorporated West Hollywood. Moreover, while the name of this drink might have once hinted at anti-capitalist subversion, this is one beverage with a history that any U.S. captain of industry or Russian oligarch can appreciate.

The Moscow Mule was developed by East-coast based Smirnoff manufacturer Heublein in the 1940s to help popularize vodka, then a poor seller in the U.S. market. The new drink hit it big, however, with the movie-star heavy clientele at the Cock ‘n Bull pub on the Sunset Strip. The pub’s owner, it turns out, also was the president of Cock ‘n Bull Products, which manufactured the drink’s other main ingredient, ginger beer. Since cocktails made with ginger beer or ginger ale were commonly called “bucks” or “mules” and Smirnoff was a Russian-derived vodka, the name must have been easy enough to invent.

Here’s the recipe:

The Moscow Mule

2 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1 spent lime wedge (garnish)
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
Approx. 3 ounces ginger beer
1 dash Angostura bitters

Dissolve sugar in lime juice, bitters, and vodka. Add plentiful ice to Tom Collins glass or large metal mug. Top off with ginger beer. Throw in one of the lime wedges you used to produce the lime juice. Stir with a bar spoon or swizzle stick and toast the Cock ‘n Bull, which tragically closed down forever in 1987. (It’s now a car dealership.)

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The above recipe is actually our distillation of a number of recipes we found online. So, be aware that it’s entirely okay to use an entire ounce of lime juice or up to three or four dashes of bitters, though that will add perhaps more piquancy than some might be prepared for while giving it the same pinkish hue as the picture we’re using this week. (If you’re big into bitters, Moscow mules have also been made with Fee Brothers’ Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters.) You can also use the minimum amount of lime juice and dispense with the sugar and bitters entirely. Still, when all was said and done, the version above produced a really well-balanced beverage that a drinking newbie can easily love and cocktail connoisseur can, at the very least, respect.

Ginger beer, by the way, is fairly similar to ginger ale, just a little bit, or a lot, heavier on the ginger, depending on the brand. We haven’t tried it, but real cheapskates may consider experimenting with plain old Vernors or Canada Dry. Ginger beer can be more expensive than some brands of actual beer.

  

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