Posts Tagged Mixology

Lemon Ginger Margaritas For Taco Night

3 April 2013

Lemon Ginger MargaritaAs much as I enjoy drinking unusual wines, spirits and cocktails, sometimes I drink them out of simple necessity. Last Saturday evening, for example, I just wanted to make myself a simple margarita to drink with the tacos we prepared for dinner (see my favorite traditional margarita recipe here). Unfortunately, Whole Foods was under Easter siege during our shopping trip, and in my haste to escape, I neglected to buy any limes. All we had was a solitary lemon. If I wanted a margarita, it would have to be an unusual one.

As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make Lemon Ginger Margaritas. I had lemon and ginger on my mind in the wake of my experimentation with Koval Ginger Liqueur. Produced in a distillery just down the street, this liqueur worked well with vodka, bourbon, and cognac, so why not tequila? And fortunately, it tasted delicious with lemon as well.

The recipe of tequila, lemon juice, and ginger liqueur followed a classic mixology trinity: One Spirit, One Liqueur, One Juice. That gave me some hope. But lemon with tequila? Surely it’s been tried before, and surely it’s failed. After all, it’s not that hard to find strawberry, raspberry, mango, and even banana margaritas, but when is the last time you saw lemon? I felt less than optimistic, and I prayed this wouldn’t be a repeat of the Chimayó debacle.

I juiced the lemon, combined the ingredients in the shaker, and shook with fingers crossed. The result looked appealing, and it had a pleasantly citrusy smell. I took a sip, and it actually tasted quite good! The cocktail started off sweet, then moved to juicy citrus, a tight tartness, some smoke from the tequila, and finally an aftertaste of ginger. Paired with the tacos (actually tostadas topped with beans, beef, cheese, onions, guacamole, salsa and cilantro), the cocktail gained some zesty spiciness.

It’s a very fun drink, with a very easy recipe:

LEMON GINGER MARGARITA

–2 parts Tequila (I used El Jimador Reposado, but any decent reposado or gold tequila should do the trick.)

–1.5 parts Ginger Liqueur (If you can’t find Koval‘s organic ginger liqueur, Stirrings makes a perfectly fine substitute.)

–1 part Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice (There’s no substitute for this. Use bottled juice or sour mix at your peril.)

–Splash of Simple Syrup (Available bottled, or make it yourself: simmer a cup of water, dissolve a cup of sugar in it, and let cool.)

Juice a whole lemon, and use the amount of juice you get as the measure of one part. Combine the lemon juice, tequila and ginger liqueur in a shaker with ice. I recommend adding the splash of simple syrup as well. The sugar enhances the flavors and rounds them out. You can make this cocktail without the simple syrup and it will taste fine, but a small splash really does wake it up. Shake vigorously, and strain into a large martini glass. Garnish, if you’re feeling fancy, with a slice of lemon or a strip of fresh ginger.

Cheers!

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Experimenting With Eggnog

12 December 2012

In all probability, eggnog with a little brandy was the first cocktail I ever tried. I was, after all, only 10 or 11 when my dad first presented me with this nectar, just before we opened gifts at Grandpa’s house on Christmas morning.

I still indulge in gloriously fatty, sugary eggnog each year, adding a touch to my morning coffee, or spicing it up with a splash of Cognac in the evening, should I be feeling extravagant.

But is this really the best way to enjoy eggnog? Could my eggnog pleasure be yet further increased? The possibility seemed remote, and yet too enticing to ignore. I got to work.

First, it’s important to choose the right eggnog. For my money, the most sumptuously thick comes from Oberweis, a local dairy. Should Oberweis be unavailable, choose an organic eggnog, made with real yolks and spices, rather than processed fat and artificial flavors.

A good eggnog can stand up well to a variety of different spirits, which means you can use whatever your favorite booze may be, and the drink will still turn out basically all right.

Whichever booze you choose, proportions are key. A 1:1 eggnog/booze ratio yields a perfectly delightful and very adult cocktail, but when I drink eggnog, I want the full fatty luxuriousness to envelop my palate. For me, a 2:1 ratio of eggnog to booze afforded a balanced drink that remained lusciously thick in texture.

If you have particularly thick eggnog, the booze likely won’t incorporate immediately. I recommend stirring, either in a pitcher or in the glass, rather than shaking in a shaker. Shaking the eggnog aerates it, and I want that thick texture intact. And worse, if you use ice in the shaker, you’ll end up diluting the nog. Not acceptable. The eggnog should be cool enough that you don’t need to use any ice. If it’s important to you that the drink be truly cold, put the booze in the freezer for 30 or 40 minutes before you plan on drinking.

I tried mixing eggnog with a variety of different spirits, and while none of these combinations proved to be offensive, some worked better than others. I used a 2:1 ratio in all cases, unless otherwise noted:

With Brandy: A classic combination. With no basic brandy on hand, I used Remy Martin VSOP Cognac, and it worked predictably well. But this was not my favorite combo. The vanilla and caramel flavors in the Cognac were too close to the flavors in the eggnog, making the cocktail a little one-note.

With Tequila: Unorthodox but successful. I used El Jimador Reposado tequila, and the result had a surprisingly dry finish, even with just a hint of smoke. I rather liked it even better than with the Cognac!

With Rum: Another classic combo, except that I used a Rhum Agricole clocking in at a touch over 100 proof. The bright, sharp finish might be a bit strong for some, or just right for others. It gave me an idea. Why not try eggnog…

With Bacardi 151: I keep this rum, with its unholy 75.5% alcohol content, on hand mostly because it’s so easy to ignite. In this case, it proves exceedingly useful because you can add half the amount and get the same alcoholic kick. With a 4:1 eggnog/Barcardi 151 ratio, you have an eggnog cocktail with unparalleled thickness of texture.

With Coffee Liqueur: Since I do enjoy a little eggnog in my coffee, I assumed a little coffee liqueur in my eggnog would taste just as good. I was wrong. It tasted simple, caramelly and way too sweet. It was dessert, not a cocktail. I couldn’t drink more than two sips. If you’re determined to go this route, make it more of a White Russian, using 1 part coffee liqueur, 2 parts vodka and 5 or 6 parts eggnog.

With Bourbon: My favorite combo of all. Again, I seemed to be out of inexpensive bourbon — all I had was some delicious Rowan’s Creek. I used it in this cocktail only reluctantly, assuming its flavors would be completely lost, as the Cognac’s flavors were. But what a delight! After the initial wave of eggnog flavor, I detected something herbaceous underneath. Then as the eggnog faded away, the bourbon really came to the fore, making for a wonderfully delicious finish. A memorable journey, and one I suspect I’ll be repeating many times between now and Christmas. It’s worth trying with whatever bourbon you may have on hand.

———

I also spent some time working up a more complicated cocktail, because after all, I wouldn’t be Odd Bacchus if I didn’t want to complicate matters just a little. I wanted to complement the nutmeg and cinnamon in the nog, and I hit on the idea of using orange and ginger, two similarly warm flavors. After noodling around with the proportions, I came up with a marvelous concoction I like to call:

SANTA’S HELPER

–4 parts Bourbon (I used Rowan’s Creek)

–1 part Triple Sec (Stirrings makes an “all natural” version of this orange-flavored liqueur)

–1 part Ginger Liqueur (A number are on the market, but Stirrings’ is much less expensive than most others)

–9 parts Eggnog (1.5 times as much alcohol)

Pour all the ingredients, ending with the eggnog, in your glass or a pitcher. Stir to combine, and serve in a lowball or rocks glass. Do not use ice at any point in the process. The eggnog, orange, ginger and bourbon all have their moment on your palate, making for a delicious and surprisingly complex journey.

It’s traditional to top your eggnog with some freshly grated nutmeg, but that’s a pain, and there’s already plenty of nutmeg in most store-bought eggnogs. I prefer a little cinnamon powder on top of my nog. If you want to get fancy, top your eggnog with a touch of cinnamon and a sprinkle of ginger powder. Even fancier, top with a bit of ginger powder and garnish with a whole cinnamon stick.

Cheers!

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Mixology Mishaps

5 December 2012

‘Twas the night before a blog deadline, and all through the bar, Odd Bacchus was stirring some cocktails bizarre.

The booze was poured in the shaker with care, but the result would only be drunk on a dare.

Being a seasonal kind of guy, I planned on extolling the virtues of the Chimayó in this blog post. This cocktail, first brought to my attention by former Wall Street Journal cocktail columnist Eric Felten, combines tequila, unfiltered apple cider, crème de cassis (black currant liqueur) and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. I had all the ingredients on hand, and what could go wrong?

Well, something unpleasant happened between the shaker and the glass, because lovely though this cocktail to the right may look, it tasted like sour menthol smoke berries. My theory is that the gold tequila I used was inappropriate for this drink, and that silver might suit it better. But who knows? I am bereft of silver tequila at the moment, and Mr. Felten doesn’t specify the type of tequila in his article. Come on, Eric! I expected more from you.

Having completely failed at making a palatable Chimayó, it was time for Plan B. I took out a jar of vodka I’d infused with lemon-thyme, a wonderful herb a coworker gave me from her garden. Doesn’t that sound tasty? I poured a little in a glass and took a whiff. “Lemon Pledge” was the first thing that came to mind. A sip confirmed it: I’d made a jar of Lemon Pledge vodka.

Determined to salvage this unfortunate infusion, I tried mixing it with the unfiltered apple cider, a bit of lemon juice and some crème de cassis. Lemon and black currant can go really well together, and since this was a modified version of Felten’s Chimayó recipe, I had high hopes. My optimism proved to be unfounded, however. This cocktail, despite its entirely natural set of ingredients, tasted like chemical lemon candy and purple. Yes, its flavor was revolting enough to induce momentary synesthesia.

With single-minded but sadly misguided zeal, I soldiered on and made one more attempt to create something someone — anyone — might want to drink. I simplified the recipe, using just the lemon-thyme vodka, lemon juice and crème de cassis. The result stunned me with the sheer power of its noxiousness. How could so simple and natural a drink be so overwhelmingly disgusting? I gingerly tried another sip. Indeed, there was no denying the abhorrent flavor, an abomination which I took to be some sign of the End of Days. I spat it into the sink, followed by a spew of unholy expletives unprintable in a blog viewable by the general public.

Although I discovered no new cocktails to recommend on this blog, I did develop a new-found respect for professional mixologists. Tip your bartenders well, dear readers — their job isn’t as easy as it looks.

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Make Your Own Unusual Cocktail

22 August 2012

Experimenting with mixology is great fun, but with the vast array of booze and mixers at our disposal, it can be daunting. I floundered for years in the cocktail creation department, because I had no idea where to begin. I still flounder a bit today, honestly, but my experiments taste a heck of a lot better than they used to.

There aren’t any strict rules, but if you’re an aspiring mixologist, your cocktails have a much greater chance of being palatable if you keep a few basic guidelines in mind:

  1. Start with a key ingredient. It can be almost anything, really. Often, my key ingredient is something I need to get rid of, like a week-old lemon, or a bottle of mango juice taking up space in the fridge, or some fresh basil that didn’t make it into my marinara. Sometimes the key ingredient is a liquor or liqueur I want to try. Or maybe I just feel like having a cocktail with tequila (or whatever) in it.
  2. Decide on a main spirit. (If your key ingredient is a liquor, move on to #3.) If your key ingredient is herbal, bitter or floral, the botanicals in gin might complement it. If it’s sweet, using a sweet liquor like rum or tequila might be too much. If it’s citrusy, well, that can go with just about anything, including whiskey and cognac. If all else fails, choose vodka.
  3. Add something sweet. (If your key ingredient is sugary, move on to #4.) Some cocktails work very well completely dry, like a gin martini, but most drinks taste best to me with some sort of sugar, like fruit juice or simple syrup. It doesn’t have to be much. Like salt in your food, sugar helps bring out the other ingredients’ flavors. Without it, a cocktail can feel unbalanced or flat.
  4. Consider texture. Adding something sweet will tame the burn of a liquor, but usually that’s not enough to create a pleasing texture. Compare, for example, the texture of a vodka cranberry with the texture of a Cosmopolitan. It’s night and day, because the fresh lime juice in a Cosmo balances things out. Any fresh-squeezed citrus can serve this purpose, or vermouth can also be useful to round out a drink.
  5. Consider depth and complexity. If you taste your concoction and it seems too bright, add a dash of bitters. Bitters can do wonders to ground a cocktail. The wonderful Pegu Club would be a bit abrasive without bitters. Amari (bitter Italian liqueurs) have become very popular with bartenders as well. But it need not be something bitter. In the Cosmopolitan, Triple Sec rounds things out. Without this sweet orangey liqueur, a Cosmopolitan would seem too pointy.
  6. Work in small batches. In order to not waste booze when experimenting, I use a tablespoon as the measure of one part, rather than a shot glass. Once the proportions are to my liking, I scale up to proper cocktail size.
  7. Be brave! Work with fresh herbs, fresh fruits and unusual juices. Try infusing vodka with something. What’s the worst that could happen? After all, by the third or fourth sip, whatever you’ve made will taste just fine.

So there you have it — the basic formula: A main spirit, something sweet, something sour, and something round or bitter. Of course, there are countless ways to come up with a fine cocktail, but I find these guidelines invaluable.

I would love to hear about your own cocktail experimentation. Feel free to e-mail your recipes to contact@oddbacchus.com, post them to my Facebook page, or just write a comment below.

Happy mixing!

 

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Some Odd Resolutions

31 December 2011

Many of us use the beginning of the new year to take stock, examining our lives and bodies and, finding faults, we resolve to correct them. For the next month or two, we flail around the gym in sweaty desperation, lay siege to armies of dust soldiers in their well-defended closet fortresses, or simply try to “be more positive.” Worthy pursuits, all.

But surely you deserve a fun (and easy) resolution or two as well. Consider adding one of the following to your list:

1. Drink more sparkling wine. Many people indulge in elegant Champagnes tonight, but for most, it’s the only time of year they break out the bubbly. Cava, Prosecco, Crémant and, yes, Champagne, are wonderful at any time of year, and pair well with all sorts of foods. The pop of a cork makes any gathering feel more festive.

2. Drink some dessert wine. I’ve attended very few parties where one has been served, and I can’t think of the last time a dining companion ordered one in a restaurant. Any dessert wine worth its salt isn’t just candy in a bottle; it will exhibit a delicious balance of sweetness, acid and perhaps even some minerals, wood or other flavors. Ask for a recommendation in your price range at your local wine shop, and I am 100% certain you’ll delight your guests. Or heck, just drink it yourself.

3. Drink some rosé. Sweet, boring White Zinfandel ruined the reputation of rosé in this country, therefore any American winemaker who produces a proper dry rosé probably really puts his or her heart into it. But dry rosés from anywhere can be a delight, particularly in warmer weather. I can think of few finer ways to lunch than sitting outside in the sun, dining on simple picnic fare with friends, a glass of rosé in hand.

4. Get out of your cocktail rut. Type “Classic Cocktails” into a search engine, and you’ll find all sorts of fun, time-tested ideas (or, of course, you can click on one of the spirits listed just to the right). If you’re feeling more adventurous, make your own cocktail recipe. A good rule of thumb is to use a base liquor (like vodka, gin, brandy, etc.), a smaller amount of a liqueur (like triple sec, crème de cassis, maraschino) and a mixer (fresh lime juice, pineapple juice, cranberry juice). If it feels like it’s missing something, add a dash of bitters.

5. Go into your favorite wine shop and ask for something weird. Sometimes for my birthday, I request that party guests do this for my gift. I’ve received everything from root beer schnapps to a wine from Santorini that tasted like stone and sunshine. If the wine store employee looks at you like you’re crazy, resolve to find another wine store.

Happy New Year!

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