Salty Dog

Loooooong blogging hiatus.  Turns out that regular blogging consumes a lot of time – and effort –  if its not your day job.  Particularly when it involves a regimen of regular boozing.  Regardless,  Mrs. ChinaNob has increasingly complained of late of the lack of booze-blogging – or rather, the lack of weekly cocktail tasting as a product of regular booze-blogging.  Eventually, one has to relent or suffer the marital consequences.

Tonight’s plan involved a lime.  Or, alternatively a lemon.  The crisper drawer had other plans.   Plenty of carrots from the CSA box.   As well as leeks, some beets, a bunch of kale.   Great if my plan involved cooking a winter stew.  Or an incredibly gross drink.  Buried in the back though was a Texas grapefruit I had completely forgotten about.

Grapefruit isn’t a particularly common cocktail citrus.  Lemons – try making a Sidecar or Whiskey Sour without one.  Limes – kiss a Margarita or Daiquiri goodbye without one.   But a grapefruit? There’s the classic Hemingway Daiquiri – but you also need a lime for that one.  Planter’s Punch is a good one, if you also have a lemon, a lime and an orange.  Sea Breeze?  Only if you are a 25 year old hipster reliving the 80’s you were never alive for – and you have cranberry juice and a bottle of grain neutral spirits.

Fortunately, there’s an old classic that is both easy drinking and easy making for the perennially lazy like myself – the Salty Dog.   Gin, grapefruit, salt.   Can’t get much easier than that unless you are just doing shots.   Cafe Van Kleef, a great little bar in Oakland, serves these without salt as Bulldogs.  You have to give some props to a live music dive-y joint whose house drink involves serving gin & fresh pressed grapefruit with a big honking slice of a garnish.  (Total aside – if you haven’t been, get thee hence to Oakland for a visit – best damn town in the Bay Area).   So, in homage to Van Kleef – a Salty Dog, with a big ole garnish.

Salty Dog

2 oz. gin
4 oz. grapefruit juice

Build in salt-rimmed highball with ice.  Obnoxious garnish optional.

MxMo LVII: Sandalwood Sour

When I first proposed “Floral” as the theme for Mixology Monday, I had figured I would make some type of gin punch using a chamomile or jasmine infused gin.  But that was way back in the Fall.  By the time it actually rolled around, I had attended a book opening party for Left Coast Libations at Heaven’s Dog where a number of the recipes from the book were being featured for the event.  Although all the drinks we tried that night were fantastic, this particular one really stood out from the pack.  I wasn’t the only one who thought so – the bartenders were slammed making these all night.

The recipe requires two unusual ingredients.  First, you’ll need sandalwood (and not the kind in incense!)  I recommend hunting around in Indian grocery stores.  The other involves making a sharbat.  Sharbat is a type of flavored, non-alcoholic drink from the Middle East and India, served over ice.  Sharbat comes from the Arabic word ‘Sharbah’, meaning ‘a drink’.  It’s a syrup made from fruits and extracts of flowers and herbs.  Common flavorings include rose, sandalwood, saffron, hibiscus, pineapple and citrus.  The syrup gets diluted with water or evaporated milk and served with ice. It can also be used to pour over desserts.  The sharbat here uses rose and saffron as its flavors, providing a rich floral perfume to the drink, which is built off a gin sour.  A healthy amount of bitters adds an earthy tang, with a finish of sandalwood rounding out the exotic spices.  I could drink these all night long.

1 1/2 oz. Plymouth gin
1/2 z.  lemon juice
1/2 oz.  lime juice
1/2 oz. saffron sharbat (see below)
1 barspoon Angostura bitters
1 egg white

Dry shake without ice for 20-30 seconds.  Add ice and shake until frosty.  Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with grated sandalwood.

Saffron Sharbat

1 1/4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup rosewater
1/4 rounded tsp. saffron
1 Tbs. boiling water

Place 1 Tbs. boiling water into a small bowl and add crushed saffron threads.  Steep for 15 minutes.  Add rosewater.

Mix water and sugar in a saucepan over low heat and dissolve.  Add rosewater saffron mixture.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, let cool and store in bottle.  Store in refridgerator.  You can leave in saffron threads or strain.  Makes enough for 16 cocktails.  Can also be used as a flavored syrup with soda water.

Recipe courtesy of Anu Apte of Rob Roy. (via Left Coast Libations)

Richmond Gimlet

This past autumn for my birthday, thanks to my better half, I had the good fortune to experience a triple dose of cocktail fun.  First, dinner at Heaven’s Dog, the Modern Chinese meets mixology venue from Charles Phan of Slanted Door fame.  Followed by a book premiere party for Left Coast Libations which featured a cocktail list from the book, including a crazy-good Saffron Sandalwood Sour.  Then concluding at Thad Vogler’s Vulcan mind meld of locavore dinning meets locavore drinking at Bar Agricole.  A fun time was had by all – from what I can remember!

Since the Left Coast Libations book party, I’ve been slowly making my way through the recipes.   The drinks have been rather good on average, but far too many require preparing rather exotic tinctures, syrups and foams.  For example, Erik Adkin’s Carter Beats the Devil is a phenomenal drink, but when a drink calls for a Thai chili tincture that takes two weeks to macerate, it can take some of the spontaneous usefulness out of a cocktail recipe book.  (Needless to say, of course I wound up making the tincture, for a future blog post.  But still – just saying.)

Thankfully, it includes a few recipes that can be made on the relative spur of the moment – presuming you have access to a farmer’s market, neighborhood greengrocer or – in our case – Chinatown produce stand.  This one is an easy “modern” classic that is perfect for when the weather starts to take a turn for the springtime.  Light, refreshing and festive.  It’s also a completely awesome green in color.  What more could you want?

2 oz. gin
1 oz. lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup
large sprig of mint

Shake with ice and strain through fine mesh seive.

Recipe courtesy of Jeffrey Morganthaler.

Sage Heaven

I stand corrected.  Yesterday was not a heatwave.  TODAY is a heatwave.  The official thermometer broke 98 degrees in San Francisco, with “unofficial” temps in the triple digits.  Sitting here in Oakland at this time of the evening,  a cool, relaxing breeze should be blowing in to provide the natural air conditioning we like to brag about.  It’s instead the kind of sticky August night I almost forgot about from a decade spent in Boston.   Except we don’t have any electric fans to get the air moving.  (see aforementioned “where is the natural air conditioning?”)  Thankfully, by the end of the week, Alaska is sending us some frozen air and we are projected to go from 100 degrees to 60 degrees.   Crazy? Definitely.  Welcome to California – please leave reason at the border.

In the meantime, its best just to enjoy the weather.  Preferably with a seasonal, market-driven tall drink in hand.  The West Coast cocktail scene, drawing inspiration from the agricultural bounty of a year-round growing season combined with a food-obsessed population, is becoming defined by this style of drinking.  If New York is all about the brown liquours, then San Francisco (and increasingly L.A., Portland, and Seattle) is all about taking the farmer’s market and putting it in a glass.  For this tipple, the combination of sage, raspberry and ginger in a column of ice will have you mixing a second (or third) before you’ve even finished your first sip.

6 fresh raspberries
4 fresh sage leaves
3/4 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. agave syrup*
2 oz. gin
ginger beer

Muddle raspberries and sage leaves.  Add rest of ingredients except ginger beer. Shake & strain into ice filled collins glass.  Top with ginger beer.

* Mix 1 part agave nectar to 1 part water

Recipe courtesy of Matthew Biancaniello, Library Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel

Singapore Sling

Heatwave!!! That’s right – its heatwave time in the Bay Area.  In most parts of the country, the tail end of summer means hot, muggy days that fade into what seem like even hotter, muggier (and sleepless) nights.  For us NorCal folks, August means Fog-hust – weeks on end of waking up to bone-chilling, “marine layer” fog completely blocking out the sun until a small break of blue skies for a few hours in the afternoon, after which more freezing fog rolls in shortly before sundown.  While its always worth a cheap thrill watching the tourists in their shorts and sandals stumbling around almost as cluelesly out of sorts as Beatty and Hoffman in Ishtar, I’d rather have the sunshine.

Just when you don’t think you can deal with one more morning of “I moved to California for this?”, a short-term heatwave rolls in to barrel out the fog and kick the temperatures up 20 degrees.  Perfect weather for an old-school cooler.  Most of what we can say about the Singapore Sling is that it was invented at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore in 1915, a hangout for folks like Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, and Noel Coward.  Beyond that, the history of the drink, including the original recipe, gets rather muddy.  Which of course means that it was the perfect topic of research for drink nerds seeking to unearth the origins of this famous drink.  The end result of the geekery was to find that the original drink was likely a far drier, less fruity, more bracing drink.  Quite tasty on its own accord, but far different from what modern drinkers associated with the Singapore Sling such as to require giving it a new name.  But that’s a horse – or blog post – of a different color.

More important than the history, is whether the recipe tastes good.  As the original recipe was lost in a bar on the other side of the globe in a time when the British ruled the world and not just a small section of the cable dial, numerous recipes have worn the title “Singapore Sling”.  While they all generally include gin, cherry brandy, and benedictine as jumping off points, it often goes downhill from there.  These are not one of those recipes.  The first is by the King of Cocktail Dale Degroff, the man possibly more responsible than any other single individual for rescuing the cocktail from the basement of cheap booze, artificial sour mix and stuff shot out of a bar gun.  The second is by Beachbum Berry, a professional drinker who has managed the feat of creating a career out of unearthing and resurrecting the original tiki recipes of Donn Beach, Trader Vic and others.  Both are fantastic – so don’t just stop at one!

1-1/2 ounces gin.
1/2 ounce Cherry Heering
1/2 ounce Bénédictine
1/4 ounce Cointreau
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
2 ounces pineapple juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
2 dashes grenadine
club soda

Combine with ice and shake well. Strain into a tall wine glass or Collins glass over ice, and top with club soda. Garnish with an orange-cherry flag.

Recipe courtesy of Dale DeGroff

2 ounces gin.
1/2 ounce brandy
1 ounce Cherry Heering
1/2 ounce Benedictine
1 ounce fresh lime juice
club soda

Recipe courtesy of Beachbum Berry

Ramos Gin Fizz

Lazy Sunday Easter brunches – or any Sunday brunch for that matter – are made for a “morning after” that combines fruit juice, egg, cream and a little of the hair of the dog all in one easy to down combo.  Add some fizz on top and you are in total heaven.  This classic was invented in New Orleans in 1888 by one Henry C. Ramos, who kept the recipe secret until Prohibition, at which time he gave this treat to the world lest it be lost forever.

At the heyday of its popularity in the times when men wore handlebar moustaches unironically, Henry Ramos would employ a team of over thirty shaker boys during Carnival just to keep up with demand  for this drink alone.  The Kingfish himself would bring along a New Orleans bartender with him to New York to train bartenders how to make the drink just so he could have his favorite fizz whenever he was in Manhattan.  Not surprisingly then, this luscious drink has survived in spite of its long list of ingredients and the amount of time needed to make one.  Which is why its perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon…

Ramos Gin Fizz

1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. cream
1 egg white
3 or 4 drops orange flower water
1 Tbs. simple syrup
soda water, to top

Shake all ingredients except soda water DRY until emulsified – this will take a minute or two.  Add ice and shake until cold.  Strain into tall glass and top with soda water.  For an extra decadent twist, add a few drops of good vanilla extract.  The consistency of this drink should be very thick and foamy – which will require a LOT of shaking.  Traditionalists claim shake times of upwards of 12 minutes.    This is far too insane an amount of time for a drink – I think the dry shake to emulsify works just fine.  You can also use an electric hand mixer.

Petruchio & Bardstail

Aperol, Aperol, Aperol! I’ve gone a little nuts for this sweet little aperitif from Italy.  Aperol was originally made by the Barbieri company in Padua, but has since been added to the Campari family of products.  It dates back to 1919 and includes a number of herbal components including bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb and cinchona.  Its flavor profile is sweeter and less bitter than Campari with a pleasant, almost floral, orange taste and half the proof.  It makes for a good entry into this glass of aperitifs, especially for folks who might find Campari too bitter.  Plus, it just rolls off the tongue!

Aperol, Aperol, Aperol!

Petruchio and Bardstail

Petruchio

2 oz. gin
1 oz. Aperol
dash of Laphroaig scotch

Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist.

Bardstail

1 1/2 oz. Maker’s Mark bourbon
1/2 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1/4 oz. Aperol

Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel.

Courtesy of Robert Hess.

Jersey Boy at the Mall

Another in a long overdue post that was sidetracked by wisdom teeth purgatory! As a follow-up to my previous recipe for an Outside Lands inspired drink, this one likewise came about after a weekend on non-stop, “This is your brain. This is your brain on San Francisco”-style crazed behavior with New Jersey’s finest lothario and part-time goaltender.

The base is Irish whiskey which is a challenging spirit for a cocktail by half. Its sharp bite and wood spice doesn’t play as easily as gin, rum or rye does in the traditional cocktail of base/sugar/water/bitters. To round out and sweeten the whiskey without clashing with the Bushmill’s, I used Cherry Heering which has a mild cherry flavor and a dry finish. Some lime juice added enough tart fruit to settle down the wood, while cherry bitters brings it all together. I topped with Reed’s ginger ale for some effervescence. Reed’s has more ginger than mass market ginger ale but isn’t a true ginger beer, which I feared would over-spice the drink. Plus, it has the right name.

Jersey Boy

Jersey Boy

1 1/2 oz. Bushmill’s Irish whiskey
1/2 oz. Cherry Heering liqueur
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
dash of cherry bitters
Reed’s premium ginger ale (approx. 2 oz.)

Combine whiskey, cherry liqueur, lime juice and bitters in shaker. Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Top with ginger ale.

As an added bonus, I’ve thrown in another Jersey inspired cocktail, this one my attempt to create a booze version of that addictive yet horrifying mall food court concoction known as the Orange Julius – a Twilight Zone beverage that is Sunny Delight orange “drink” meets frothy milkshake.  Sounds gross? Totally is.  But you’ll still slurp it down.

Orange Julius

The Jerzy Mall

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Aperol
2 oz. fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 oz. homemade vanilla syrup
1 oz. milk
1 egg white
dash of orange bitters

Combine ingredients in a tin and dry shake to emulsify.  Add ice and shake until your arms hurt.  Strain into champagne flute and garnish with orange twist.  Drink and pretend you are thirteen at the Cherry Hill Mall.

Summer Spice

This past week I was up with Ms. ChinaNob in Mendocino County, which was equal parts Marin County coastal headlands, Wine Country vineyards, and pot smoking hippie meets seen better days logging towns.  Throw in some redwood forests, just picked roadside organic farm stands, and 100 degree weather in the valleys, and its a place I really want to go see again.  Unlike the long since ruined by the snooty-snoots wine scene in Napa, this is probably the first time I did a free wine tasting that involved around 15 different wines poured by the winery’s marketing manager who most likely was getting stoned a few minutes earlier in his Grateful Dead Dancing Bears VW Bus parked outside.

Beyond the excellent wines, hiking and hot springs, the area also boasts some fantastic farms selling just picked peak of season produce.   It was a week of mouth-watering peaches, strawberries, apples. pears, and the like.  This recipe with its muddling of fresh strawberries and light flavor, reminds me of summery lightness of the place.   I’ve seen it in a few different places titled a Strawberry Ginger Martini – which I have renamed as I refuse to a call cocktail a [BLANK] Martini just because it is served in an angular cocktail glass!

Summer Spice

2 oz. Canton ginger liqueur
1 oz. gin
2-3 strawberries
1/4 fresh lime, squeezed

Muddle strawberries with lime juice.  Add gin and ginger liqueur.  Shake with ice and strain into glass.

Martini

Ordering a martini in all but the most meticulous bar scares me.   First there is the vodka issue – if you are not careful, you order a martini and instead of gin, you get a glass of cold vodka with no vermouth.  Might as well do vodka shots.  Second, there is the vermouth issue.  Nine out of ten bartenders are under the mistaken impression that spritzing a little vermouth into the glass makes it a martini.   It doesn’t.  There is also the side issue that the vermouth likely has been improperly stored and gone bad.  Finally, even if all this goes right, the bartender will likely shake it, creating a cloudy mess in your glass.  It is almost not worth the trouble, which is a shame for such a lovely cocktail.   Especially one that traces its lineage to Martinez, California!

Martini

2  1/4 oz gin
3/4 oz dry vermouth
dash of orange bitters

Stir with ice for 10-20 seconds until ice cold.  Strain into cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon peel, oils expressed into glass.

With such a short and simple list, quality ingredients are essential.  For the gin, this is the time for that bottle of top shelf you own.   Personally, I am partial to the rose/cucumber profile of Hendricks, but there are plenty of good gins out there – Martin Miller’s, No. 209, Old Raj, Bluecoat – the list goes on.  Plymouth is an excellent and affordable choice.  It is frequently mentioned as the original or classic gin called for in a martini.  Plymouth is a medium-bodied gin with excellent balance and slightly sweeter than a London dry.  On the gin spectrum of sweetness, with London dry as the driest and a Dutch-style genever being the sweetest, Plymouth sits between a London dry and Old Tom gins.  Its also a great, all-around mixing gin.

For the vermouth, its important to use fresh vermouth.  If you have a bottle of opened vermouth in your liquor cabinet and cannot recall when you opened it, then toss it.  It has probably gone bad.   Vermouth is a fortified wine, but still a wine.  Much like a sherry in that it lasts longer than ordinary wine, it does eventually go bad once opened.   Once opened, you can expect the vermouth to last a few weeks if left on a shelf.  To extend its life, store the opened bottle in the refrigerator.  In addition, if you have a wine vacuum pump, use that as well.  When vacuum-pumped and refrigerated, you can get up to two months from an opened bottle of vermouth.

If you find that you aren’t drinking it quickly enough, dry vermouth also makes a great all around cooking wine.   Don’t take my word for it – the Oracle at Delphi (AKA the fine folks at Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen) have pronounced dry vermouth as the best go to cooking wine on the quality/value scale.  My favorite dry vermouth is Dolin Vermouth de Chambery, a  very light, very dry French vermouth that is well worth the extra dollars.   It is easily drinkable over ice with a lemon twist as an apertif in the summer, similar to Lillet or Dubonnet.   And tasty, tasty in a Martini.

Finally, go nuts with some orange bitters.  Bitters in a martini is essential.  It is what transforms the drink from gin with vermouth into a cocktail.  The bitters adds an aromatic component to play with the astringent qualities of the gin as well as the herbal components of the vermouth.  Besides orange bitters, I would imagine other citrus bitters such as lemon or grapefruit might work.  Bitters, bitters, bitters!

Oh, and don’t forget your garnish.  I prefer a citrus peel of either lemon or orange. with some of the oils expressed into the glass.  I save my olives for eating.  Cheers!