Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What I've Learned: Year Three


It's February again, which means another year of this nonsense has come and gone. But time doesn't pass without leaving a little residue on the ol' gray matter, so here's...

What I've Learned in my Third Year of Boozeblogging

~ Some spiced rums are very good, some are downright awful, and a lot are in between. Proceed with caution.

~ Living in a warm, sunny region is undoubtedly pleasant, but I really like being able to reach out the back door and chill my gin in a snowbank.

~ People representing liquor brands frequently contact me hoping I'll be interested their product(s). Some will send mass emails describing how awesome their stuff is and telling me why I should like it. Others will mail me a bottle. Guess which approach works.

~ Buy limes & lemons in bulk. It's cheaper, and you're less likely to be out of them at that crucial moment when your friend unexpectedly switches from white wine to Mai Tais.

~ My love affair with rye continues unabated. Hey, if it's good enough for the World's Toughest Milkman, it's good enough for me.

~ Watching sheer panic unfold during the Great Angostura Drought of '09 was hilarious (mainly because I had a full bottle)

~ There is no shame in buying a nut grinder solely to make orgeat with.

~ I fully realize I'm in the minority here, but I garnish my drinks at home. Even when no one is looking. I can't help it- it's part of the experience.

~ No matter how many ways it's described to me in glowing terms, I just can't embrace infusing booze with meat. However, I find the idea of snake wine strangely appealing.

~ My freezer now contains ice in cube, ball, small hemisphere, irregularly faceted, and sometimes cylindrical forms. Don't judge me.

~ Speaking of ice balls, find a way to make some at home. Regardless of whatever method you choose (like this one, this one, or this one), making them is fun as hell and they work great.

~ It is amazing how people who claim to not like whiskey will warm up to a correctly-made Old-Fashioned.

~ If you are offered the chance to judge a cocktail competition, do it. You will taste some great drinks, see some nifty bartending techniques and meet some very nice people. It will also force you to really think about what makes a good cocktail.

~ You can never have too many bitters.

~ There is considerable overlap between the foodie and booze nerd communities. No offense to the gourmands, but if I've got fifty bucks to spend on food & booze, I'm dropping two dollars at Taco Bell and the rest goes to the liquor store.* I'm going to get a lot more mileage from a bottle of Chartreuse than a fancy dinner.

~ Booze storage seems to follow a natural progression. I started with a liquor cabinet. Then it became a liquor closet. I now have a free-standing shelving unit in my basement. I'm guessing in the next year or two I'll be building a shed.

~ It is impossible to be morose if you are drinking from a tiki mug.

~ The reason I know what "Herkimer diamonds" are is directly attributable to my interest in cocktails. I'm still unsure if this is good or bad.

~ There are a lot of problems that can be remedied simply by judiciously applying Havana Club Barrel Proof.

~ As I pointed out in the last two installments of What I've Learned, the booze geek community remains a friendly, generous and encouraging collection of people. Most are wickedly knowledgeable, many are wonderfully off-kilter, and more than a few are genuinely inspiring. They all need to keep up the good work.

*This is obviously an exaggeration. I'd probably spend only about a buck twenty-five at Taco Bell.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Potable Pariahs: Midori


There are certain products in the pantheon of drink that are almost universally reviled by cocktail geeks, liquor snobs and discerning booze enthusiasts alike. These are products considered such egregious affronts to good drinking that simply uttering their name in the presence of discriminating drunks invites a fusillade of sneers and snickers.

As I've mentioned before, these perennial targets of booze nerd derision hold a strange fascination for me. I have a compelling, perverse need to somehow redeem these disreputable tipples, and the deeper the antipathy toward a given product is, the more attractive the prospect of salvaging it becomes.

So I began compiling a list of liquors that exist almost solely as punchlines among people who fancy themselves sophisticated swillers. I've labeled them "Potable Pariahs", and from time to time I'll trot one out here and take a gander. I promise nothing, but perhaps simply engaging in the act of reassessing a much-maligned product may grant it a small measure of dignity and redemption.

Or we could just find out that it's as crappy as everyone says it is.

Up first: Midori!

What is it?

Midori is a sweet, honeydew melon-flavored liqueur that is a vivid green color and comes in a distinctively-shaped textured bottle.

Why does it suck?

According to The Ultimate Book of Cocktails , Midori was "an instant hit" when it was introduced in 1978, so apparently somebody liked it. Its Wikipedia listing indicates its launch party took place at Studio 54, which seems entirely appropriate, because this stuff is pretty much the 70's in a bottle (insert your own observations about the relationship between cocaine use and subpar spirits here)

The two main indictments against it appear to be its color and taste. Color-wise, this stuff is greener than a recycling bin full of leprechauns. But I suppose if you use the Japanese word for "green" as the name of your product you really want to drive the point home, visually speaking (As if it really needed to be said, the label indicates in large print that Midori is artificially colored.)

In any case, Midori (much like blue curacao) probably bears at least a nominal responsibility for the rash of oversweet drinks that came in OSHA-certified hues in the late 70's and 80's...and that alone is enough to make the cocktail cognoscenti cringe.

Flavor-wise, I'm not certain that "honeydew melon" is really an accurate descriptor for Midori. I'm inclined toward "non-specific Jolly Rancher crossed with cough syrup" if I had to put my finger on it. It's definitely not the worst thing I've tasted by far, but it does have a decidedly synthetic quality that is hard to ignore. Also, this stuff just screams out to be mixed...I can't imagine anyone would want to just drink it straight.

How can we fix it?

Since it's so crushingly sweet, my instinct is to savagely bludgeon it into submission with something sour. Not a bad approach, but what I'm looking to do is actually retain some of the signature "melon" flavor while knocking down the sugar.

Employing my usual slapdash trial-and-error method (guided gently by whatever dubious intuition toward these things I can muster), I discovered that cachaca pairs pretty well with Midori in a 2-1 ratio, so with my base spirit in place, I chose lemon as the sour component. It seemed to do the trick, and while I generally like to double-strain my citrus in "up" drinks, I enjoy the textural quality of some pulp in this one. A fat dash of Peychaud's and some ginger for garnish brought it all home, so I called it a day. The only thing left to do was name it, and how could I not be inspired by its delightful radioactive green color?

Banner Cocktail

2 oz. Cachaca (Leblon*)
1 oz. Midori
.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 dash Peychaud's bitters

Shake everything with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a long, thin slice of fresh ginger.

Can we consider Midori redeemed? It appears that if used judiciously, it can impart a unique, offbeat flavor to a drink. However, I doubt it will be able to overcome its perception as a novelty product and be embraced by serious hooch nerds anytime soon. But it's been around for over 30 years, so I don't think the manufacturer is sweating- There's apparently a big market for green drinks out there. Viva La Verde!

*Although my go-to brands of cachaca are Fazenda Mae de Ouro, Boca Loca, and Pitu,(depending on the drink) I've discovered that Leblon really works well in this recipe.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tartan on Your Tiki


Skye Tai

1.5 oz. Blended Scotch (Pig's Nose is great for this drink)
.75 oz. Amer Picon
.5 oz. Orgeat
.5 oz. Fresh lime juice
1/8 tsp. Absinthe
1 dash Fee's rhubarb bitters

Shake everything with ice and strain into double old-fashioned glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a lime slice and a cherry.

I've mentioned Thursday Drink Night before- It's the weekly online improvisational cocktail extravaganza where everyone is welcome to drop in, stick around as long as they like, and experiment with cocktail-making. I like to think of it as a jam session with booze instead of music. It's casual, friendly, and I guarantee it includes more references to Ting than any other chatroom you'll wander into. How's that for enticing?

A few weeks ago, the TDN theme was "Scotch", and I came up with the above recipe right around last call (sometimes the creative gears don't start turning until well into the night...TDN is funny like that). In any case, for reasons I'm still not entirely sure of, I was inspired to come up with a tropical-style drink. Scotch already has a reputation as being somewhat uncooperative in cocktails (with a few notable exceptions), so given my predilection to make difficult tasks even harder, I decided it would be a nifty challenge to see if I could get Scotch to behave itself in a tiki-ish cocktail.

I used the venerable Mai Tai as a loose template, retaining the lime juice and orgeat, but swapping in some new ingredients to take things in a different direction (toward the Hebrides, it seems). I'll be the first to admit it looks odd on paper (or screen), but it's gotten positive feedback from the intrepid souls who've tried it, so I'll consider it a keeper. Plus, it afforded me the opportunity to draw a tiki wearing a kilt and a Tam o ' Shanter, so really, the whole affair was out of my hands from the get-go.

Quick notes on some key ingredients:

1) I haven't empirically tested every blended Scotch out there, but I have found that Pig's Nose works wonderfully here. It's also great if you'd just prefer to dump it in a glass and enjoy it without fussing around with all the juice, syrup, ice and other miscellaneous distractions. As always, I encourage experimentation and investigation, and eagerly await your findings.

2) I haven't yet run across a commercially-made Amer Picon that I'm wild about, but the homemade stuff that my fellow boozeblogger SeanMike Whipkey of The Scofflaw's Den makes is fantastic, and it's what I use in this drink. His version is based on Jamie Boudreau's Amer Picon recipe, which just goes to show how incestuous the booze geek community really is.


If you want some, contact SeanMike directly. I hear he'll do just about anything in exchange for a case of Miller Lite.

One more thing- Since this post revolves around a quasi-tiki drink, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that for the second year in a row, The Pegu Blog has transmogrified into The Tiki Blog for the entire month of February*.

* February is the shortest month of the year, but since Doug posts approximately every 17 minutes, he makes up for it.