… And now for a change of pace.
Sure, beer cocktails are all the rage these days. But there’s more to imbibing than beer. Sacrilege, I know. But in the spirit of expanding our flavour and aroma horizons, how about an evening cocktail?
Depending on your fridge, pantry, and bar stocks, you could make these right now. If your cupboard looks more like Mother Hubbard’s, then these recipes will get you heading to the supermarket or bottle shop in search of some new ingredients to sample.
Setting Up the Bar
Shaker (Boston shaker or cobbler). The Boston shaker is a two-piece shaker that consists of a stainless steel container that fits into a pint glass. I prefer the Boston shaker because it holds more, and fits a finer-grained cocktail strainer that gives you more control over the amount of seeds and fruit chunks that get into your glass.
Strainer (for Boston Shaker). Bonus: These kinds of strainers don’t clog as easily as the outlets on a typical cobbler (pictured).
Measuring glass. Ideally, you want one that measures in ounces, milliliters, tablespoons, and teaspoons.
Muddler (for mashing up fruit or herbs). If you don’t have one, the back of a spoon will do.
Fruit and herbs. Use fresh fruit when you can get it. If not, frozen fruit (especially berries) work in a pinch. For fruits that make it to North American supermarket shelves less frequently, look for purées from companies like Goya (good for passion fruit, guava, mango, and the like). Always use fresh herbs.
Fruit juices. Avoid the mixes and juice your own fruit. Almost every cocktail recipe has some sort of acidic/sour component for balance and crispness, with lemon and lime virtually ubiquitous in cocktail recipes. Citrus fruits with thinner skins yield more juice. Let your citrus come to room temperature before juicing. Bottled cranberry juice or canned pineapple juice work well.
Simple syrup. This is easy to make, and adaptable. You can infuse it with anything from lavender to peppercorns to chilies. Simmer a one-to-one ratio of granulated sugar and filtered water until the liquid begins to thicken slightly. Stores well in the fridge.
Bitters. You can find Angostura bitters just about anywhere, but grab some Peychaud’s bitters or Regans’ Orange No.6 to spice up your cocktails if you can find them. Fee Brothers also produces a wide range of bitters, including celery bitters.
Spirits and other liquor. Do some experimenting. You might find that you prefer Gordon’s to Beefeater or Tanqueray. Sometimes a ten-dollar bottle of vodka will do the trick. I use saké quite often in my cocktails, but I don’t add anything more expensive than your standard Gekkeikan. When it comes to vermouth, though, I find that the few extra bucks on something like Noilly-Prat is worth the expense.
Ice. Ice is one of the most important ingredients in your cocktail kit. When I first started making cocktails, I used to just toss the ingredients together haphazardly and then wonder why my drinks tasted so damned harsh. Cocktails need water to smooth out the rough edges and release the esters of the spirits. If you drink Scotch or Bourbon, you’ll know what I’m talking about here. Larger ice cubes are better, as they release water more slowly during the shake or stir than smaller cubes or hollow cubes. Too much water is just as bad as too little.
And now for the drinks!
This drink came to me one late spring afternoon while contemplating an essay that stubbornly refused to let itself be written. Why force things? I went into the kitchen and kept on contemplating. The result of my ruminations is based loosely on the Mojito. Adjust the sweetness to match your taste.
- 4 sprigs fresh mint
- 1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
- 0.75 oz. honey
- 1.5 oz. lime juice
- 1.5 oz. simple syrup
- 2 oz. saké
- 2 oz. white rum
Muddle the first two ingredients in the bottom of a mixing glass and continue to muddle while adding the next two ingredients. Add ice and the rest of the ingredients and give it all a good shake. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice, top with soda, and garnish with mint and a wedge of lime. *A note on the honey: heat it up and dilute it with a little bit of filtered water so that it pours more easily.
Cool as a Cucumber
Perfect for long, sunny afternoons that stretch imperceptibly into evening. This cocktail pays tribute to springtime in Montreal. I first had the drink that inspired this recipe at Decca 77.
- 2.5 oz. saké
- 1 oz. Hendricks Gin
- 0.5 oz. lime juice
- 0.5 oz. simple syrup
- 3 cubes cucumber
Muddle the chunks of cucumber at the bottom of a shaker glass. Shake all the ingredients together and strain into a highball glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint. *Note: You can use other brands of gin, but this is one occasion where a particular brand (Hendricks) improves the cocktail.
Hill Country Sunrise
I had just bought a bottle of Fee Bros. rhubarb bitters and was looking for something to do with it. The perfect occasion for experimentation presented itself when an old friend turned up with his family en route between Dallas and Toronto. He pulled out a bottle of spicy Texan vodka, we found some nicely ripe peaches at the local supermarket, and voila.
- Half of a white peach, cubed
- 1.75 oz. Dripping Springs Texan Vodka
- 1 oz. rosemary-infused simple syrup
- 1 oz. lime juice
- 3-4 dashes rhubarb bitters
To make the rosemary simple syrup, crush a few rosemary needles in a mortar and pestle, then let stand in a shot or two of simple syrup for about half an hour. You can also make a more involved version by infusing a batch of simple syrup with a few sprigs of rosemary.
Muddle the peach well until it has transformed into a pulp. Add ice to the mixing glass along with the other ingredients, and shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass for a more “refined” drink, or pour the whole lot into a rocks glass. Garnish with mint and a slice of peach.
The first time I had a cocktail with some heat in it was at the West Village’s Perry St. restaurant. The bartender mentioned Thai chilies as the heat source, but in recreating this cocktail I used a three-way blend of half a dried ancho, a third of a dried chipotle, and one whole seeded chile de arbol to infuse my passion fruit simple syrup with a subtle smokiness.
Start with equal proportions simple syrup and passion fruit purée (about one cup of each). Chop up the dried chilies and infuse them in the liquid until you get your desired level of heat. Strain. Don’t let the mix infuse for too long, or the smokiness of the chipotle will overpower the passion fruit. You can use the strained chilies in one cup of simple syrup for an interesting infusion that contains a hint of passion fruit. Regardless, you’ll have plenty of chili-infused passion fruit simple syrup left over, so experiment away on other recipes.
- 1.5 oz. gin
- 2 oz. chili-passion fruit infusion
- 1 oz. lemon juice
- 0.5 oz. simple syrup
Add ice to a mixing glass and build the drink. Stir or shake. Serve in a highball glass or flute and top with a float of club soda.
You might not feel like traveling all over hell’s half acre in search of some of the ingredients needed to make the cocktails above. And that’s no problem. Chances are you already have everything you need to make this classic cocktail. The Old Fashioned first turned up on Bourbon Country at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, KY, in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Some dispute exists as to whether club soda is appropriate. I’ve had good results with just a splash, but I prefer a long stir to release some water from the ice. For an interesting twist on this classic, use kumquats sliced into discs or quarters.
- 1 sugar cube
- 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2 orange slices, one cut thickly
- 3 oz. bourbon
- 2 maraschino cherries
In the bottom of an old-fashioned glass, soak the sugar cube with the bitters. Muddle this together with the thickly-sliced orange (or three kumquats sliced into discs and seeded) and one of the cherries. Add the bourbon. One large ice cube is ideal. If you don’t have large cubes, just add a small handful of ice cubes. Give it all a good stir while counting to thirty. Garnish with the second orange and cherry.
Two cocktail books worth your money:
Dale DeGroff, The Craft of the Cocktail (New York: Clarkson Potter, 2002).
Gary Regan, The Joy of Mixology: The Consummate Guide to the Bartender’s Craft (New York: Clarkson Potter, 2003).
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With the exception of the cobbler shaker (Wiki Commons), photos by F.D. Hofer.
© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.