Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Cocktails For the Adult Table

As you've likely seen on TV or online, Thanksgiving brings out the best in "creative" cocktail-making, incorporating what's on the table into what's in your glass in an almost adolescent way. To me that has its place and can be fun, but a cocktail that tastes like cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie seems a bit overkill to me. In my opinion, when pairing a drink with a meal or an occasion, instead of making it an exact match of its counterpart, it should act as a partner to enhance food or celebrations through its own uniqueness. How about a cocktail that distinguishes your pre-Thanksgiving imbibing with a bit of elegance, complexity and sophistication? A cocktail for adults.

I present to you the classic Americano:

1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Sweet Italian Vermouth
1-2 oz. Sparkling Water (to taste)

Combine ingredients in a glass with ice, stir and garnish with a slice of orange or lemon.

The Americano is an aperitif, which means it comes before the meal and is there to "awaken" the appetite. Why do I choose the Americano for Thanksgiving? One, its ingredients of essentially equal parts of Campari, sweet vermouth and sparkling water create a flavor reminiscent of the spices, herbs and fruits enjoyed during the holidays in a way unlike anything on your table. Sweet vermouth is a fortified wine typically infused with herbs and aromatics, many with flavors of stone fruit, cinnamon, vanilla, citrus and even mint and anise. Combine that with Campari's distinctive flavor of bitter orange, derived from its combination of the bitter cascarilla bark and dozens of other herbs, spices and citrus peels. The sparkling water blends and mellows the flavors into a smooth and effervescent texture perfect for pre-feast sipping. What's more, it's a low alcohol drink so your guests aren't too tipsy by mealtime.

Two, the Americano brings a delightful change of pace to the Thanksgiving tradition. It's easy to make (no abstract measurements and is built in the glass it's served in) and is a great way to bring everyone together to signify the coming meal. And for one of the most American of American holidays, it's name can't be beat. And its history goes deeper than that. In Philip Greene's book To Have and Have Another - A Hemingway Cocktail Companion he explains how Hemingway became fond of the Americano during his time living in Italy. The cocktail got its name from the many Americans who ordered it while on vacation in Italy during Prohibition. Americans had apparently grown a taste for bitters like Campari, which at the time were thought to have medicinal value. The laws of Prohibition had loopholes allowing for such bitters to be prescribed medically for certain "ailments." To add even more conversation to your aperitif, Greene goes on to say that the Americano is the first cocktail James Bond drinks in Ian Fleming's first 007 novel Casino Royale. Take that martini!

OK, so you want something with a little more oomph for your Thanksgiving, maybe something for later in the evening? Switch out the sparkling water with some bourbon or rye and you've got yourself a Boulevardier:

1.5 oz. Bourbon or Rye Whiskey (I prefer rye for a spicier tone)
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth

Stir on ice until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a twist of lemon. Fall time in a glass! Earthy and bitter-sweet.

Toby Cecchini of the New York Times wrote a great "Case Study" on the Boulevardier telling of its origins in Paris in the late 1920s named after a literary magazine by American writer Erskine Gwynne.

Had your fill of sweet vermouth and Campari? How about a classic cocktail that incorporates two fruits of the fall-winter season, namely apples and pomegranates (ya, you hear me, pomegranates).

I give you the Jack Rose:

2 oz. Applejack (otherwise known as apple brandy - Use Laird's Applejack, the oldest family-owned distillery in the US. It's an old brand, as in George Washington was a fan. If that's not around a French Calvados will do the trick.)
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz Grenadine (preferably made from pomegranate juice)

Shake ingredients on ice until well chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Bright and fruity with a woody undertone and a crisp citric balance to wake up the taste buds.

Regarding the grenadine in the Jack Rose and other cocktails for that matter, brands such as Rose's tend to be highly processed with an ingredient list you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. Historically grenadine was made with pomegranate juice. There might be specialty shops near you that carry it as well as a number that you can order online. OR, just make the simple recipe yourself. Et viola! Your contribution to the Thanksgiving spread.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

When a Gathering Was a Gathering

Recently I've been getting nostalgic for the "classic" years. Those not-too-long-ago days when social networking meant simply gathering together with friends. There were people, chairs, a table, some drinks, food, maybe some music in the background and that was it. The evening would be filled with long conversations and laughter, uninterrupted by buzzing smartphones. People gave their unadulterated attention to the moment because they weren't distracting themselves with the half-dozen other virtual conversations happening online in their pocket - a time when thumbs weren't doing the talking at the table.

I'm reminded of these times when I watch classic films. A character pours a drink, there's dialogue and the plot thickens. They're not checking e-mails, updating their Facebook status or uploading a picture of their drink to Twitter (I know, I'm one of the worst offenders).

Though the atmosphere of bar life and social interaction has changed, the classic cocktails enjoyed back then by the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery and Alec Guiness are thankfully still alive and thriving today. To celebrate this, the Museum of the American Cocktail hosted "Cocktails of the Silver Screen," (which I've written about here) highlighting cocktails from Hollywood classics like "Casablanca," "The Thin Man," James Bond and "Our Man in Havana." An all-star cast of DC's brightest bartenders paid homage to the greats like the Champagne Cocktail, French 75, Rum Collins, the Martini, the Knickerbocker Cocktail and the classic Daiquiri.

Though technology hasn't made it possilbe to go back to a time of less "interactive" imbibing, we definitely have the ability to bring those times back. Next time I go to meet friends at the bar, it'll be a classic cocktail for me and I think I'll hit the off switch on my phone (or maybe even leave it a home - GASP!) and see what happens.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cocktails from Warmer Climes

From left: JP Caceres, Duane Sylvester and Jamie MacBain.
As the temperature climbs The Museum of the American Cocktail hosted a seminar with a trio of DC finest bartenders to enlighten us about the cocktails from South of the Border. Rum, Cachaça and Tequila took center stage at Bourbon Steak in DC. Duane Sylvester got swizzling as JP Caceres demonstrated dirty-dumps and dry-shakes while Jamie MacBain got his beet on. One stop shopping for your summer cocktails!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"On the Town" in DC with King Cocktail

If there is anyone to thank (and bow down to) for the for today's growing appreciation and revitalization of the US cocktail culture, it's Dale "King Cocktail" DeGroff. On April 12 Dale graced and intimate audience at the Warehouse Theater in Washington where he performed his “On the Town: A Tribute to Bars, Speaks, and Legendary Saloons,” incorporating tales and songs about the watering holes of yesteryear and Dale’s own career path as a bartender. It was a rare treat for all to hear Dale's stories of the New York cocktail scene from the late 1960s and its transformation, under his leadership, from fern bars serving processed, ready-made piña coladas to establishments such as Aurora and the Rainbow Room where he brought many cocktails such as the Gin Fizz and Singapore Sling back out of virtual extinction, using top-shelf spirits and fresh-squeezed juices. His style focused on bringing the profession of bartending back to its glory providing an atmosphere where the bartender took center stage in welcoming and interacting with guests.

Read my post about Dale's performance for The Museum of the American Cocktail.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Vodka Classics

On March 20 Phil Greene of the Museum of the American Cocktail hosted a Vodka Classics Seminar. He introduced guests to one of his original cocktails called the Cook Strait Sling No. 2 with vodka, lemon juice, Cherry Heering Liqueur, St. Germain, Fee Bros. Aromatic bitters and Fee Bros. Gin Barrel Aged Gin Bitters. It was a fantastic mingling of sweet, floral and bitter flavors.

An interesting note is that vodka didn't really become popular in the US until the 1950s. To get Americans to buy more vodka, which many found bland, they hired celebrities like Woody Allen as spokespeople to promote the Moscow Mule made with vodka, ginger beer and lime juice - served in a copper mug. As vodka became more popular it made appearances in pop culture including in the James Bond books and films with the appearance of the Vesper and Vodka Martini "shaken, not stirred." Read more here.

Monday, January 30, 2012

George Washington and the Drinking of the Nation

The Museum of the American Cocktail recently hosted a seminar featuring Dennis Pogue, author of "Founding Spirits" on the history of the American whiskey industry. According to Pogue, George Washington was quite the rye whiskey distiller, making more money off his hooch than anything else grown on his Mount Vernon estate. Derek Brown of The Passenger and Columbia Room gave a demonstration on how to make a classic Old Fashioned and Phil Green of the Museum showcased the New Orleans Cocktail Trinity. With six rye whiskey recipes to boot, my latest installment for the MOTAC blog will have you swirling in our nation's history of drinking!