Mixology 101

Last night we took a “cocktail class” with a group of friends at Denmark, one of the high-end cocktail lounges in town.  Our friendly instructor walked us through the tools of the trade, some standard recipes and proportions that are the building blocks of many cocktails, and the basics of when to shake and when to stir — and then added that, of course, all rules are made to be broken, especially when it comes to cocktail creation.

We then proceeded to use our table of jiggers, bottles, bar spoons, strainers, and other implements to measure, shake, stir, strain, and pour three cocktails with autumnal themes.  I’m not a cocktail drinker, but I really liked two of them.  The first was a “Fall 75,” which was a variation on a French 75.  Here’s the recipe:

Fall 75

1.5 oz. apple cinnamon vodka

.75 oz. lemon juice

.75 oz. simple syrup

Add ice, shake well, then strain and pour into a coupe cocktail glass and top with champagne and grated nutmeg.  This cocktail had a nice balance of flavors, and the grated nutmeg gave a hint of the holiday flavors we’ll be enjoying in the not-too-distant future.

The second cocktail was a pear and rosemary mojito.  Here’s the recipe:

Pear & Rosemary Mojito

Add rosemary and mint to your cocktail shaker

1 oz. light rum

.5 oz. pear cordial

.5 oz. pear nectar

.25 oz. lemon juice

.75 simple syrup

Add ice, shake well, then strain and pour into a highball glass with ice, and top with club soda.  This cocktail was on the sweet side, but was very refreshing.

Cocktails are fun to make.  They’re also fun to drink.  That’s why I typically stick with wine.

A Well-Made Cocktail (IV)

IMG_6199Kish and I continued our occasional sampling of new cocktails Friday night during a visit to Curio.  This particular concoction is called a Salt and Pine.  I ordered it because the name made was so intriguing, and made it sound like the drink must taste the sweaty floor on a basketball court (not that I know what that would taste like, of course.)

Believe it or not, this cocktail was really very good.  Made with orange blossom water, vermouth, gin, lemon juice, lime juice, and salted honey syrup, finished with a lemon peel, and served in an icy, chilled glass, it had a light taste that was not too sweet.  Very refreshing, indeed!

I’m not really a spirits drinker, but I’ve been enjoying our periodic forays into the world of artisanal cocktails.  It’s fun to try something new.

A Well-Made Cocktail (III)

IMG_5651What do the idle rich do in the modern world?  Apparently, nothing.  That’s why they’re called the idle rich.

In the old days, though, the rich and titled did do worthwhile things . . . like invent cocktails.  Consider Count Negroni.  In 1919, this Italian nobleman decided that the recent end of World War I and the Spanish flu epidemic that was ravaging the world wasn’t going to keep him from experimenting with tasty combinations of different liquors and inventing a drink that he humbly named after himself.  At least, that’s the takeaway I got from a bar coaster at Curio that announced that last Saturday was part of Negroni Week — and if you can’t trust a bar coaster for accurate historical information, what has the world come to?

I figured that if a Negroni was so noteworthy that it has a week named after it, it was worth a taste.  For those of you, like me, who had never tried a Negroni, the basic concoction is made with gin, vermouth, and Campari, garnished with an orange peel.  It’s an interesting drink, with a complex taste (and aftertaste) that includes some bitterness.  It’s not a drink for everyone — but I can see where some people could grow to love it, and where the old Count might decide that he had come up with a winner.

A Well-Made Cocktail (II)

IMG_5601Last night Kish and I stopped for a drink at Curio, the excellent German Village cocktail lounge connected to Harvest Pizzeria.  Curio is a cozy joint with an interesting decor, a handful of private booths, and an extensive and interesting menu of concoctions, with servers and bartenders interested in providing a high-end cocktail lounge experience.

We decided to try something new, and after perusing the options we asked the server for a recommendation.  She suggested a Floradora — which is actually an old cocktail dating from the early 1900s that has fallen out of favor, but one that is new to us.  Happily, it’s also one of the drinks that are available for a reduced price during Happy hour.

Boy, did she steer us in the right direction!  Made with Old Tom gin, homemade raspberry juice, and some other ingredients, and topped with a fresh raspberry and a skewered piece of sugared ginger, the Curio version of the Floradora is a fantastic summer drink — light, fizzy, and flavorful.  How did it ever fall out of favor as a popular cocktail option?

A Well-Made Cocktail

Normally I’m a wine guy.  I shy away from distilled spirits because appalling incidents from my college days remain fresh in my memory.

But some nights, a cocktail sounds good.  Last night we visited the Society Lounge in Cleveland, which makes many fine cocktails and maintains a well-stocked bar.  When I learned that the barkeeps were locked in a Campari Cocktail Contest, with proceeds to benefit charity, I felt honor-bound to participate.  

Our bartender invented a drink called The Enemy Within, with gin, Campari, Cocchi, and blackberry, garnished with lemon peel.  It was excellent, looked good, and went down easy.  The fact that it was named after a Star Trek episode didn’t hurt, either.

The View From Our Hotel Window

IMG_3932We’re in Bermuda for meetings, staying at the Fairmont Southampton.  Bermuda is a quaint, charming island, surrounded by some beautiful water.  We have a pretty view from our hotel room window, too.

We’ve been here before with this group, so our trip has a nice element of familiarity to it.  Time for a Dark and Stormy!  (For those of you who question whether it is cocktail hour, remember that Bermuda is an hour ahead of Eastern time.)

Cocktail Hour Down South

IMG_3591Last night Kish and I visited the Patterson House because Kish wanted to try a bacon-infused Old Fashioned, pictured above.  The drink is made with Benton bacon-infused Four Roses bourbon, maple syrup, and pecan coffee bitters.  Kish said it was “delish!”

The Patterson House is an amazing place that shows you what a cocktail lounge could be like if people just worked at it.  It’s dark and quiet, with music playing in the background at just the right volume.  Access is controlled, so you don’t have a bunch of people crowding in at the bar, shouting their orders.  As a result, you actually can have a conversation, which isn’t possible at most bars I’ve been to recently.  The place offers some well-made, lighter fare food options, too, to balance the alcohol consumption.

The bartenders and waiters clearly take great pride in their appearance and their craft.  They work hard to make the perfect drink, and their list of drink options shows the kind of attention to detail that makes that goal feasible.  From the spherical ice cubes to the vigorous shaking to the careful placement of an orange peel, this is the place to come if you want to savor a well-made drink and some pleasant conversation.

A Signature Drink For The Evening (Cont.)

IMG_2216After much careful consideration, Kish has settled on a white cosmopolitan as our signature drink for this evening.  Thanks to niece Amy for the suggestion!

Ingredients: 2 cups citron-flavored vodka; 3/4 cup Cointreau, 1 cup white cranberry juice, 1/2 cup fresh lime juice, lime wedges, whole cranberries, ice

Combine the vodka, Cointreau, cranberry juice, and lime juice in a large pitcher filled with ice.  Stir and strain into martini glasses.  Garnish with whole cranberries and lime wedges.  (Ingredients make about 8 cocktails.)

Kish likes this drink because it is tasty and looks very festive.  With its red cranberries and green lime wedges, it has a definite holiday feel to it.  Here’s hoping  our guests tonight feel the same way!

Edited to add:  The white Cosmos were a huge hit.  Kish’s rep as a creative cocktail mixer continues to grow.

Dark And Stormy Nights

A final point about our recent visit to Bermuda:  it seems like every time you visit a tropical location, there is a new cocktail that people are drinking.  In Bermuda last week the overwhelming cocktail of choice was called a Dark and Stormy.

The Dark and Stormy is made in a tall glass with plenty of ice, a shot, more or less, of Gosling’s Black Seal rum, enough ginger beer to fill the glass to the top, and a lime wedge for garnish.  (Apparently the ginger beer of choice is Barrit’s ginger beer.)

The result is much darker than the standard tropical drinks, which tend to have lighter pastel colors.  Nevertheless, Kish and a host of others at the conference we were attending found the Dark and Stormy to be a very tasty and refreshing drink on a sultry evening.  I’m not sure any grocery stores sell Barrit’s, or any kind of ginger beer, here in Columbus, but we will be keeping an eye out for it.

Scotch Night

Last night, courtesy of my friend John, I attended Scotch Night at Rocky Fork Hunt and Country Club, which is a bit strange because I do not care for the smell or taste of scotch. The evening was presided over by a “Whiskey Master,” who described six different scotches that were served as different courses were served. Given my preferences I didn’t drink the scotch, but did taste it and try to detect subtle differences in appearance and flavor. I couldn’t. My palate simply is not capable of determining whether a particular scotch is prepared with orange peel or damper peat. It all smelled and tasted like scotch to me, and seemed to differ only in the strength of the scotch taste and smell.

However, the food was terrific and the company at our table was even better, and we learned the kind of extraneous, often unverifiable facts you learn whenever you go to a presentation about a particular topic. We learned that there are only 13 Whiskey Masters in the world, and how scotch is prepared, and that the cumulative value of the barrels of different scotches used to blend Johnny Walker Blue is greater than the total assets of the Bank of England. (I knew England has been hard hit by the economic downturn, but that seems ridiculous.) One useful bit of information was that, when you drink an alcoholic beverage, if you leave the drink on your tongue and breathe out, the warmth from your mouth will cause some of the alcohol to vaporize and be blown out, making the drink milder and about 20% lower in alcoholic content. This will be handy information the next time I drink something other than scotch.

The Cocktail Hour

Friday night is well suited to a cocktail hour, to mark the end of another work week. Kish’s drink of choice these days is a pometini (consisting of pomegranate juice and vodka) and I’m a red wine drinker. For many years now — since college, really — I have not had much of a taste for distilled spirits.

Although I don’t drink them, I have a certain fondness for cocktails. They seem classier, more sophisticated, and more fun than a glass of wine or a beer. When I was a kid, it seemed like all adults enjoyed their own cocktail of choice, and that drinking a mixed drink was just something that grown-ups did when they got home from work. After all, on Bewitched Samantha greeted Darren at the door with a pitcher of martinis, and when the Tates came over for dinner it was a very liquid affair.

Members of my own family were known for ordering particular cocktails. When Jim and I were kids, we used to go to University of Akron basketball games with Gramma and Grampa Neal , and before every game we would go to a restaurant called Sanginiti’s, where we sat at the same table and were waited on by a waitress named Christine. At dinner, Gramma had an Old-fashioned on the rocks (always ordered with the additional instruction: “and not too many rocks”), and Grampa had a Manhattan.

We learned about a bunch of new concoctions when we moved to Columbus and my parents hosted Ohio State football game parties. They had a fully stocked liquor cabinet, and partygoers would order a Tom Collins, a White Russian, a Stinger, or a Rusty Nail. When we got old enough, we would act as bartenders, and for a time I had a pretty good working knowledge of mixology. In college, Kish and I drank Seven and Sevens, available for 75 cents at Andy Capp’s bar on High Street (these drinks, which were served in a juice glass, did not seem very sophisticated in retrospect).

I’d like to see cocktails make a comeback, to the point where people don’t just order an appletini or whatever other “-tini” craze is hot at the moment, but return to some of the classics — like a real Martini, or a Brown Boxcar, or a Whiskey Sour. My guess is that, if the economy continues to bump along as it has been doing, people will be tempted to do so.