The Art of Choke

Artichoke really isn’t one of those flavors you expect to find at the bottom of a bottle. Offer a glass of “artichoke liqueur” to a friend, and you’re more likely to get a “WTF?!?!” than anything else. Yet, there is indeed an artichoke liqueur – Cynar – and leave it to the Italians to make it taste good. Its extremely bitter and vegetal, so when used as an ingredient in cocktails, it is generally used in modest quantities. However, this extremely awesome nightcap brings it front and center, layering on added elements with mint, demerara, chartreuse and a hint of lime.

1 ounce white rum
1 ounce Cynar
1/8 ounce fresh lime juice
1/8 ounce rich Demerara sugar syrup (2:1)
1/4 ounce green Chartreuse
Sprig of mint.

Bruise mint sprig with the other ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir with ice for 30 seconds, then strain over ice-filled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with mint sprig.

Courtesy of The Violet Hour.

Bywater

It took forever, but my homemade Amer Picon has finally finished.  Amer Picon, for the uninitiated or even merely “not geeky”, is an Italian amaro that is a mix of orange, gentian and other herbal ingredients.  It was an ingredient in various pre-Prohibition cocktails, the most classic of which is the Picon Punch, a simple cocktail of Amer Picon, grenadine and soda water.  The problem is that Amer Picon has long since ceased being imported into the States.  Even worse, twenty years ago the formula was changed which included cutting the proof in half.  Sacre bleu!

The result is an amaro which even if you can get your hands on a bottle, tastes nothing like the original around which these cocktails were based.  Enter the Americans.   Or more precisely, the San Francisco Italian-Americans.  A domestic substitute is availabe from Torani, the folks that brought you your flavored coffee syrups.  While I won’t hold that against them, their version, Torani Amer, is a bit more vegetal than the original – not bad, but not the same.  (Reports are that Torani has recently re-formulated their version to mimic more closely the original, but since I have not finished even my first bottle, I see no reason to waste the money on a second.)

So what shall a booze nerd do? Why make your own, of course! The “love him or hate him” Jamie Boudreau has concocted a recipe of his own a few years ago which comes close to the original recipe, based on reviews by tasters who have had access to those rare bottles of “original formula” Amer Picon for comparison.  It does, however, require some patience.  Precisely two months of patience, as a bottle of orange peels sits in a jar of high proof vodka in the back of your closet turning into tincture, with Ms. ChinaNob snickering in the corner thinking you’ve gone mad.   However, once complete, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the finished product was quite tasty.

Bywater

1 3/4 oz. gold rum (Cruzan 5-Year or Single Barrel )
3/4 oz. green chartreuse
1/2 oz. Amer Picon
1/2 oz. falernum

Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass.  Garnish with cherry.

Recipe courtesy of Oh Gosh!

Hurricane

Back in my much younger and much poorer days, I went on a solo road trip across the Appalachian South and into the Mississippi Delta. I was living in Boston and working as a community organizer for a small housing nonprofit, which meant my personal transportation was a subway pass. Lacking the funds to rent a car, I got one via a company that matched drivers with people looking to ship their cars affordably. Your only expense was paying for gas while your choice of destinations was limited to whatever they had available.

I took off for a week and a half in late August in a Nissan that needed shipping from Nashua, NH to Houston -and more specifically, from Daddy’s leafy suburban McMansion to Princess’ off-campus condo near Rice University in Houston. Side trips to the Smokey Mountains, Graceland, B.B. King’s in Memphis, and Hope, Arkansas later, I wound up dropping off a car to Daddy’s Little Girl and realized Houston sucked. So courtesy of Greyhound, I hoofed it to New Orleans.

New Orleans, of course, has far too many awesome things for a brief booze-post to fit: the Preservation Hall jazz band, the wrought-iron Garden District, chicory-scented cafe au lait with fresh beignets, ancient mausoleums, jambalaya…  However, being as I was in my twenties, most of the reason I was there was to party until I couldn’t see straight – which, as anyone who has hit Bourbon Street discovers, is easier than ordering a pizza, courtesy of vendors selling giant mugs of boozy, red slushy concoctions called Hurricanes.  From what I can dimly recall, Pat O’Brien’s, the bar that invented the drink, served endless supplies of the brain killing juice in an outdoor courtyard featuring a flaming water fountain of all things.

In spite of the nasty sugary slurpee it was turned into, the original was actually a fairly tasty drink.  Pat O’Brien, the original tavern owner in the 1940’s, was looking for a way to unload a lot of rum.   During the war years, whiskey and scotch were in low supply, so distributors required bars to purchase quantities of the far more readily available rum before they could buy their quota of whiskey.  Bred of necessity, Pat sold the drink in hurricane lamp-shaped novelty glasses to the ever present soldiers and sailors passing through town.  And thus was a drink borne which would eventually become synonymous with Mardi Gras debauchery.  This simplified recipe is surprisingly well-balanced and quite delish.

Hurricane

2 oz. dark rum
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. passion fruit syrup

Shake violently with ice and pour into goblet or large glass with ice shards. Garnish with cherry, pineaple or both.

Painkiller

They say it’s a curse to live in interesting times.  I have to agree.   As we lurch into year three of the Great Recession and my personal approaching fun-employment, I can’t help but hope that some good comes out of all this – like a future where Paris Hilton doesn’t get a TV show, where we all get affordable health care, where investment bankers live in daily fear of roving, torch-wielding mobs… A guy can dream, right?

This drink is definitely a balm for the times.  Think an upside down pina colada that kicks you in the head like a mule with anger control issues.   It’s a take two and I’ll call you in the morning.

Painkiller

2 oz. Pusser’s Navy rum
2 oz. pineapple juice
1 oz. Coco Lopez coconut cream
1 oz. orange juice
4 oz. crushed ice

Combine ingredients in blender and flash blend for 3 seconds.  Pour into tiki mug and garnish with grate nutmeg or cinnamon.

China Clipper

The fog is melting and it’s getting warm again.    This tends to bring on an urge for rum and fruit – preferably in a glass with lots of ice.  Or even – blended.  (Hey, there’s nothing wrong with blended drinks – Cocktail nerds are allowed to enjoy their frozen, slushy pina coladas just like everyone else, whether ironically or not!)

However, this cocktail does not involve a giant mug of ice nor does it require any blending.  I first came across it at the Bay Area’s high temple of tiki drinks.  Its creator published the recipe and since it involved making a weird syrup, I couldn’t resist.  Seriously, Five-Spice Syrup?!?!? It’s an interesting and summery tipple, but in the future, I think I would dial back the syrup to 3/4 oz. as it came out rather sweet, overwhelming the rum.

China Clipper

2 oz.  aged amber rum (Cruzan Estate Dark, Appleton V/X, Lemon Hart 80, or similar)

1 oz. fresh lemon juice

1 oz. Five Spice syrup *

Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon twist.

* For Five Spice syrup, combine one rounded teaspoon of Five Spice powder with 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water.  Bring to boil then remove from heat to steep for 10 minutes.  Strain off scummy bits and bottle.

Courtesy of Martin Cate, Forbbiden Island.

Zadaran Storm

Over the Fourth of July holiday we took advantage of the Friday off and went to the Old Oakland farmer’s market.  It’s like the Ferry Building farmer’s market, but everything is half price and there’s no annoying Marinites.   We found some great fresh raspberries – $5 for two pints.  Combined with the strawberries and grapefruit we picked up, we were living large.  So I decided to take some of the berries and make a syrup.  Because raspberry syrup is just too good.  Plus, you can use it with seltzer for a quickie raspberry soda, or squirt it over ice cream.  Or brownies.  Or brownies with ice cream…

Zadaran Storm

2 oz  Gosling’s Black Seal rum
1/2 oz maraschino liqueur
1 oz lime juice
1/2 oz raspberry syrup
1/2 oz vanilla syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
ginger beer, to top

Combine all ingredients besides ginger beer in a Collins glass.  Add crushed ice and top with ginger beer.  Stir for 10 seconds until cold.

Courtesy of Rick at Kaiser Penguin.

Scorpion

When I was a college freshmen, we used to go to this place in Harvard Square called the Hong Kong.  It was one of those big tacky sit-down Chinese restaurants that catered to the suburban and college student crowd, offering big plates of sweet & sour meat stuff with a side of cream cheese wrapped in fried wontons.  Of course, as a broke college student, it was awesome.  Since then, it appears the place has attempted to clean itself up a bit, and even has a comedy club going on six nights a week. I hear the open mike night attracts the Cambridge/Allston/Somerville hipster crowd at this point.

Besides cheap, fried, sugary “Chinese” food, the other thing the Hong Kong offered to broke, underage college students was a drink menu specializing in tiki-style drinks in oversize portions.  Fog Cutters, Sidewinders, Mai Tais, Singapore Slings – the whole classic lineup.  Of course, this being the 1990s and the pre-mixology era, that meant tiki drinks with cheap rum & brandy, sour mix, fruit juices from concentrate and probably some MSG.  This did not matter, for three very important reasons: (1) we were college students in the 1990s – we had no idea what good cocktails tasted like, (2) they served Scorpion bowls in these giant ceramic bowls with big ole straws that served four, and (3) most importantly, they didn’t card.   Let me repeat: They. Did. Not. Card.  They could have served Everclear mixed with OJ & Sprite and we wouldn’t have cared.   It was booze, it was cheap, and it was fruity enough to cover over the gasoline scented Bacardi 151 enough that we could stomach several bowls in a sitting.  Good times.

All of which is to say, this Scorpion tastes nothing like the Hong Kong.  It’s actually quite good.  Tasty, even.  But like the Hong Kong, its still oversized and best enjoyed with friends.

Scorpion

1 oz fresh lime juice
2 oz. fresh orange juice
2 oz. gold rum
2 oz. gin
1 oz. brandy
3/4 oz. simple syrup
1 oz. orgeat syrup*
8 oz. crushed ice

Combine all ingredient and flash blend for 3 seconds.  Pour into a giant mug or goblet.  Share with a friend.

* For the orgeat, use homemade or as close as you can get.  I used the orgeat from Small Hands in Berkeley.  The stuff made with corn syrup and almond extract is just nasty.  Like sticking a marzipan bomb in your cocktail.

Courtesy of Steve Crane’s Luau (1958), via Jeff “Beachbum” Berry

Old Cuban

Um….this drink is just awesome.  Its the creation of Audrey Saunders, owner of the The Pegu Club in SoHo.  The Pegu Club is one of the best bars EVAH – part of the modern speakeasy/cocktail club/mixology movement of the last few years.  I was there over the Christmas holidays with Ms. ChinaNob.  I think by the end of the night we had sampled six or seven cocktails.  They were just THAT good.  If I lived nearby, I’d be both broke and joining AA.

Old Cuban

1 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
6-8 mint leaves
ice
1 1/2 oz. gold rum
2 dashes Angostura bitters
top with champagne

Muddle simple syrup, lime juice and mint leaves.  Top with ice.  Add rum and bitters.  Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass.  Top with approximately 2 oz. champagne.

Courtesy of Audrey Saunders.