Drink of the Week: The Campari Cocktail

The Campari CocktailSo, you’re starting a new job requiring a long enough commute from your home that it will ultimately require a costly move. Then, the second day of your aforementioned lengthy commute, your car starts hesitating in stop-and-start cross county traffic. Next thing you know, you’re staring down the barrel of a big, big transmission repair bill while suddenly finding yourself with a rented Ford Focus in your driveway instead of your charmingly banged-up Buick.

When that happens, you don’t want a drink that requires a lot of fuss. It’s better if it trying it out helps finish up some nearly empty bottles, lightening your liquor load on your impending cross-megalopolis move.

So, I’ll spare you the usual classic cocktail history lesson as well as the tortured connection to current events or this weekend’s holiday. (Could any cocktail possibly be appropriate for Memorial Day, anyway?) This is clearly a time when you — by which I obviously mean “I” — want my evening cocktail to be simple, stimulating for the taste buds, and strong — which is why I’ve gone and doubled the amounts for my version of today’s DOTW. Feel free to halve it if you’re situation is different or if you’ll be driving anytime soon.

The Campari Cocktail

2 ounces Campari
1 1/2 ounces vodka (preferably 100 proof)
2 dashes aromatic bitters
Lemon or orange twist (fairly optional garnish)

Combine Campari, vodka, and bitters in a cocktail shaker. Shake as vigorously as you can manage and strain into — what else? — a chilled cocktail glass. If you like, throw in a lemon or orange twist — it can’t hurt and it might help. Sip and, if you you’re not likely to give a significant amount of your personal worth to a mechanic, thank your freaking lucky stars.

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I’ve praised the oh-so-sweet and then oh-so-bitter one-two punch of Campari before while discussing the hugely underappreciated Negroni as well as the oh-so-refreshing Americano. As the name implies, here’s a drink where the Campari flavor is really and truly front and center, perhaps too much for some folks. Certainly, replacing the gin in the Negroni with vodka (and actually using less of it), doesn’t do anything to complicate the drink or stand in the way of the Campari flavors, even if they could use a bit of leavening. That’s why I think I found adding in the stronger flavor of 100 proof Smirnoff resulted in a more satisfying taste experience as well as a more effective attitude adjuster.

Vodka-disliking cocktail snobs won’t be surprised that, while I’ve tried this drink with a number of brands, the results with the 80 proof vodkas, however, didn’t vary by much. Indeed, the very cheap Seagram’s and the much more high-endish Kettle One I used to make it didn’t really change the experience by that much. Still, since I like Campari, I’m declaring that a reason to like this drink. In fact, next week’s drink will also feature it, but it’ll be just a mite more complex…unless something else happens to my car.

  

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More Spirits for the Holidays

Booze is always an essential part of the holidays. People want to have fun this time of year, so naturally we love to enjoy some drinks and holiday cheer. Forbes recently did a survey on the subject and the results were pretty interesting.

Heavy Holiday Spender: More than three quarters of male respondents estimated that they spend more than $1,000 on alcohol during the holiday season!

Food or Booze? Holiday Indulgence Priorities: More than 70% of respondents revealed that if they had to cut down on either their holiday food or alcohol consumption, food would be the first to go.

Get the picture? People take their booze seriously this time of year, especially guys. That’s why we always include some liquor suggestions in our holiday gift guide in the “Guy Stuff” section.

If you’re throwing a party, the booze is critical. If you’re going to a party, you better not arrive empty handed. There’s nothing like a nice bottle of good stuff to make everyone happy. Also keep in mind that it’s always a great idea to have some special cocktails ready for a party, and you can get some great ideas, including holiday drinks, from our Drink of the Week series.

Here we’ve added some more suggestions for gift ideas and to stock a holiday party bar.

Smirnoff Whipped Cream and Fluffed Marshmallow

The first thing to consider is DON’T FORGET THE LADIES! Women like to drink as well, so make sure you have some special drinks available for them, particularly if you’re throwing your own party. One thing to consider is flavored vodka. Women love this stuff and you can make all sorts of cool cocktails. Smirnoff has come out with two very sweet options with their Whipped Cream and Fluffed Marshmallow flavors (see image to the right). This stuff tastes so good that you can easily drink it straight on the rocks. Pair them up with orange juice or orange pop and you’ll have a creamsicle for adults.

The key to your booze selection for a party is to have something for everyone, and these flavored vodkas are a great addition to any party.

Ron Abuelo’s Aged Rums

Everyone appreciates a good rum. It makes the setting even nicer when you’re partying in the tropics, and it makes a cold winter night a little warmer when you’re partying up north. Ron Abuelo rum produced entirely from estate-grown sugar cane in Panama by the family-owned Varela Hermanos. The company dates back to 1908 when Don José Varela established the first sugar mill in the recently-formed Republic of Panama, the San Isidro Sugar Mill. Almost 30 years later, Varela began the distillation of alcohol from their sugar cane crop in 1936. Currently run by the third generation, Varela Hermanos has approximately 1000 hectares of land devoted exclusively to the cultivation of sugar cane. Today, the range is composed of four authentic dark oak-aged rums: Añejo, 7 Años, 12 Años and the limited edition Ron Abuelo Centuria.

We tried the 7 Años rum with a nice cigar and loved it. Sip it straight or make up some killer cocktails. Either way this stuff is a great addition to you holiday bar.

Van Gogh BLUE

Everyone loves a good Martini, especially the ladies. So check out our article on Classic Drinks Every Guy Should Know How to Make and then pick up some Van Gogh BLUE vodka.

This is the world’s first vodka made from three international wheat sources (central France, southern Germany and Zeeland in Holland). Hand-crafted in Holland, this triple distilled, triple wheat vodka has an exceptionally smooth, polished taste with a neutral flavor full of subtle nuances from the three European grains. It’s a great gift idea for vodka lovers and it’s naturally a great addition to your holiday bar. The bottle also looks very cool and everyone will wan to try it! You’ll find vodka at every party, but it’s always cool to bring something new and interesting, so people will appreciate trying a new and interesting alternative.

So drink up, be safe and enjoy the holidays!

  

Drink of the Week: The White Russian

white RussianCocktail classicists beware, because this week we’re saluting the immanent blu-ray release of the Coen Brothers’ comedy classic, “The Big Lebowski,” as well as the historic Lebowski Fest cast reunion with a drink that not only contains vodka but which usually requires no shaking and perhaps not even a great deal of stirring. That’s not all, the White Russian is extremely sweet and seems to derive not from the cocktail heights of the early 20th century but closer to the mixological nadir of the 1970s. The fact that it was a drink simple enough for a stoner to love led to it being immortalized on celluloid in the aforementioned 1998 film with Jeff Bridges, easily the greatest example of the pot-driven comedy genre yet made. Next to James Bond’s shaken vodka martini, the Dude’s Caucasian — same drink, different name — is easily the most legendary of all movie cocktails.

Still, no movie can make a drink popular all on its own, and the White Russian’s appeal is obvious; it tastes like a frozen candy bar. Moreover, the fact that it contains a bit of caffeine and even some rudimentary nutrition also makes it a highly appropriate beverage, not only for achievers but for caffeine heads like me. No wonder that it was one of the first cocktails I gravitated to in my ignorant youth and no wonder I still enjoy it when the time is right. Sometimes there’s no time for a martini and a very sweet cappuccino to follow it up. Impact-wise, the white Russian gives you a bit of both.

The White Russian

1.5 ounces vodka
3/4 ounces Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
3/4 ounces of heavy cream (or somewhat larger portions of half-and-half, whole milk, or even 2% milk)

Pour vodka and Kahlua over ice in rocks glass. Add heavy cream, which should “float” over the top, or other dairy topping. Stir and proceed to get into endless arguments with your friends about whether or not urinating on a rug constitutes a Saddam Hussein-like act of imperial aggression.

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There are a number of variations on the above, of course. You can eschew the diary product and go for a black Russian. I understand that if you use 2% or lower fat content film it’s called a Skinny Russian, which isn’t awful. On the other hand, I can tell you first hand that going past half-and-half and into the land of heavy cream will make the drink all the more tasty, though perhaps not tasty enough to warrant the eventual heart attack if you drink these things on too regular a basis. On the other hand, if you’re drinking as many Caucasians as the Dude seems to do during the course of a single day, wear and tear on your heart may not be your primary concern.

Also, I have to note cocktail historian David Wondrich‘s recipe actually calls for the drink to be made in a shaker and strained into a chilled rocks glass. It’s not bad that way, though it’s hard to imagine the Dude putting in all that work. As Wondrich points out, this is a drink beloved both by very occasional drinkers like my former self for its sweet-as-ice-cream taste and for the most down and out of out-and-out alcoholics, for whom it’s often the closest thing they’ll get to a balanced meal. Yes, a White Russian is for all, but really it belongs to just one man.

  

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.

  

Drink of the Week: Highballs

Because it’s the start of the Memorial Day Weekend, traditionally a big time for picnics and barbecues, we’re going to keep it extra simple this week. So simple a “recipe” in the usual sense isn’t even required.

highball gin and tonicHighballs are not any one particular drink but any cocktail comprised of an alcoholic base and a much larger proportion of some non-alcoholic beverage. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t bother with a lot of highballs because there’s not much point in giving you a recipe for, say, rum and coke or a 7 and 7 (just in case you’re extremely new to booze, that’s 7-Up and Seagram’s 7 whiskey).  Your basic highball is 1-2 ounces of booze, a mixer to taste — about five or six ounces, maybe, and some ice. You can throw in a garnish of your preference, like a lime or lemon wedge, if you want to get fancy.

We’re making an exception this weekend because highballs really are the easiest cocktails to make if you’re going to be outdoors and away from the conveniences of home. Yes, it’s possible to drag your cocktail shaker, measuring shot glass, plenty of ice cubes (which you’ll be quickly tossing), assorted bitters, garnishes, and — most tricky of all– the appropriate type of glasses with you on a picnic. However, we’ve tried it and had fun with it, but it was no picnic. Yes, you can use plastic champagne glasses in place of martini glasses and it won’t be bad, but it’s still a lot of work, those plastic champagne glasses cost a few bucks, and they will never be the same as an actual chilled glass right out of  your freezer.

Of course, cocktail snobs look a bit downward on many of the most popular highballs — you’ll never see James Bond ordering a Jack Daniels and Coke, but then again you’ll never see him gnoshing on a Hoffy’s or Hebrew National at a picnic, either. Nevertheless, there are many beverages in the highball family with a degree of nobility that Bond and even snootier folks have been known to favor. For starters, no one should look down on you for your Scotch or bourbon and soda. (Depending on liquor laws and enforcement in your community, however, police officers may feel otherwise.)

If you really want to kick it old-old-old school, try taking some ginger ale along with the usual cola and lemon lime sodas. Dry ginger ale (not too heavy on the ginger) was the mixer of choice during prohibition, when most liquor was not of high quality; it still works very nicely. Canada Dry and Canadian whiskey was our grandmother’s beverage of choice and we think the old lady kind of knew what she was doing. (We love heavier, more gingeriffic, ginger ales like Vernor’s and ginger beers, and they are frequent cocktail ingredients, but they might not be as reliable mixers in a simple picnic setting.)

Better yet, the immortal gin and tonic is one highball you can knock back with pride, and not just because it’s a favorite of English aristocracy, as seen on “Masterpiece Theater.” Even back when we were young and foolish and appreciated neither gin nor tonic water, somehow the combination of the two of them made one of the delightful warm weather alcoholic beverages we’d fall back on, and we still love them. An especially good version of this uses Hendrick’s Gin, a terrific mid-priced premium gin made in Scotland — most gins are strictly English — that uses a cucumber infusion. As for garnishes, the usual lime wedge will work just fine, but a slice of cucumber stolen from whoever’s making salad really kicks this drink to life. Vodka and tonic is obviously another popular choice here.

Screwdrivers — orange juice and vodka or gin — are impossible to mess up — unless you put in more than 1-2 ounces of  booze, in which you case you probably don’t really care what it tastes like anyway. And while a gin or vodka and tonic won’t actually cure malaria with the tiny amount of quinine that it contains, we are fairly certain the vitamin C in the orange juice will be sufficient to ward off scurvy. Trust us, nothing can ruin a picnic faster than a bad case of scurvy.

  

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