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 Pilar Old Cuban

The Pilar Old Cuban.A really topnotch new brand of dark rum, fresh lime juice, a little sweetness, some fresh mint leaves, champagne…what could possibly go wrong? Nothing, really. Nothing at all. It’s just…

I have to be honest with you — I don’t really feel like I’ve nailed this week’s drink, not quite. Yes, it’s refreshing and fairly well balanced, it’s base spirit is kind of spectacular, easily one of the best products I’ve ever been lucky enough to get for free. However, the final flavor profile just didn’t wow me as much as you’d expect, especially given how good the main ingredient really is and, really, how sound this recipe — a variation of a drink that’s been around for awhile — really seemed on paper.

At the same time, I have a confession to make, but we’ll get to that in the post-recipe section of this post.

The Pilar Old Cuban

2 ounces Papa Pilar’s Dark Rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
6-8 fresh mint leaves
2 ounces brut champagne/dry sparkling white wine

Muddle the mint leaves lightly in a cocktail shaker. Add the rum, lime juice, simple syrup, bitters (very important or this drink will come out way too sweet…I know because I forgot them on my first attempt at this drink), lots of ice, and shake vigorously.

Strain into an extra large cocktail glass (double strain if you’re fussy about bits of mint leaf getting into the drink). Top off with two ounces of cold champagne/sparkling white wine. Toast the real life elderly Cuban person of your choice. Mine would be the late Ruben Gonzalez, the wonderful, gentlemanly pianist featured in Wim Wenders’ 1998 music documentary, “The Buena Vista Social Club.”

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Today’s cocktail appears to be a variation of a drink reportedly invented by famed bartender Audrey Saunders, which features a premium rum from a far better known brand and is simply known as The Old Cuban. As mentioned above, the base spirit in today’s drink is the truly extraordinary Papa Pilar’s Dark Rum, which is dynamite stuff. This very flavorful expression, which has strong hints of vanilla and a lot of molasses to it, makes a truly fantastic Old Fashioned. It’s got so much natural flavor and sweetness that you can make that drink with just 1/2 a teaspoon of raw sugar.

Nevertheless,  I chose to make the Pilar Old Cuban instead. If I really did make a mistake on this version that kept it out of the cocktail stratosphere, I’d hazard a guess that it was — and here’s my confession — my use of a pretty darn cheap champagne to finish off the drink.

Yes, I ignored the obvious disapproval of a local liquor purveyor who tried to steer me towards a $12.00 bottle of bubbly. I simply wasn’t in the mood to spend that kind of a money on an ingredient that wasn’t even really the star of the show and it’s not like I’d get to use the unused champagne on future cocktails. So, I went with a $5.00 brand that you may well have consumed at a not-too-upscale champagne brunch.  Maybe that’s what did it, or rather, didn’t quite do it.

So, it’s possible I missed the point here. Try this drink with a really good brand of champagne, especially if you’re going to be opening a bottle of the stuff anyway. You can experiment with a little less simple syrup, or try it with superfine sugar instead, maybe just a tablespoon full or slightly more. Or, you could just listen to the beautiful playing piano playing of the later Mr. Gonzalez, which makes everything perfect.

  

Drink of the Week: The Pilar Daiquiri

The Pilar Daiquiri.So, the first thing you’re likely to notice about today’s drink is that there’s nothing remotely Irish or St. Patrick’s Dayish about it. I admit it — I prepare these posts at least a week or so ahead, and it’s sometimes easy to get a bit mixed up about the calendar. Also, I have to admit, I don’t hang out in bars all that much — shocking, yes, I know — and, even if I did, the Irish community here in L.A. isn’t exactly as prominent as if I were in Boston or New Orleans or New York. You get a lot more reminders about the coming of Cinco de Mayo down here than St. Paddy’s Day.

So, rather than trying to trump up a Irish connection that’s complete blarney, I’ll just straight up admit that this week’s really terrific drink is mostly Cuban in origin and comes to us from the promotional team behind a really outstanding pair of new rums with a pedigree that extends to the modern day heirs of no less than daiquiri drinker #1, Papa Hemingway himself. He was said to love a good daiquiri. If so, he would definitely have loved this one.

The Pilar Daiquiri

1 1/2 ounces Papa Pilar’s Blonde Rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon maraschino
1 teaspoon sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Maybe stir a bit to dissolve the sugar (not needed if you’re using C&H Superfine as I do). Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Toast Papa Hemingway and all writers, including the less tortured ones.

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Now, folks, you should understand that when freebies greet me, I feel both grateful and slightly corrupted. Also, many times we get recipes that, while quite good, could actually work with any number of brands. Nevertheless, this little number really does seem to be expressly made to complement the qualities of the dang remarkable Papa Pilar’s Blonde.

The combination of flavors from the grapefruit and maraschino liqueur in addition to the more traditional lime juice and sugar, really blends together with this uniquely flavorful blonde rum, which is delightfully heavy on notes of molasses and sports a bit of an oceanic twang.  Honestly, unless you’ve got a similar blonde rum around (are there any?) I’d stick with the simpler original daiquiri recipe I offered many moons ago.

On the other hand, if you’re going to make the investment in Papa Pilar’s, and I certainly would encourage that, I demand you make this drink right away — and yeah, that includes shelling out extra for the maraschino liqueur. That one little teaspoon of slightly bitter cherry deliciousness is important, as I learned when I accidentally cut the proportion of in half while making a two PP daiquiris for myself and a very old friend who had stopped by. Cutting the amount from one teaspoon to merely 1/2 a teaspoon threw off the drink’s balance and the result was less balanced and very tart than I would prefer, though the friend was polite about it. Every drop of maraschino is sacred but, if you need to save money, you can go with the cheaper Maraska Maraschino and leave the Luxardo for fools like me who can’t resist luxy things.

This is a drink you want to make right. It’s refreshing and nearly perfectly balanced bewteen sweet, tart, and the bittterness of the grapefruit. It’s A-1, even if I can’t try to fob it off as Papa O’Hemingway’s Irish Brew or what not.

  

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