Month of rum: El Presidente smack-down, part I

Are you ready for this? Are you hanging on the edge of your seat? After delays of the bad kind (an inability to find a certain rum without special-ordering it) and of the very, very good kind (more on that, I hope, on Wednesday, 9/16), I finally had the chance to run a couple of El Presidente recipes through their paces. Verdict? One recipe is excellent, and the other, not so much.

First, a reminder: the El Presidente has four ingredients–rum, curacao, dry vermouth, and grenadine. I’ve been using Martini & Rossi dry vermouth, and my grenadine is home-made. Those two ingredients are the same in both drinks. (I may in the future try a different vermouth; if so, I’ll note that in my writeup.)

Proportions will vary from drink to drink as I try various permutations.

El Presidente

photograph by Jennifer Hess

Version 1

Let’s start with the Not So Much recipe and explain what might have gone wrong. I started here, with the classic recipe. For the rum, I used Myers Platinum, as Paul Clarke recommends in that link. It was this rum that I had to special-order. I have no idea why; every liquor store I’ve been in in Providence carries the Myers Original Dark, but not one of them carries the Platinum. I wanted the Platinum for three reasons: first, I like the way Paul describes how it tastes in the drink; second, I’m not a huge fan of Puerto Rican rums, and even less a fan of Bacardi; third, and most important, one major point of this project is to get me trying new rums.

And the Platinum is good enough for mixing, I think. Let’s back up. Myers’s Platinum Rum is a white rum (obviously–platinum should give that away), pot-distilled, aged in oak, and charcoal filtered. The aroma’s not complicated, I’d say–tones of vanilla and caramel, of course, from the oak aging, plus a hint of chocolate. The flavor’s light and crisp, without the chemical aftertaste of some white rums. Some say it’s a bit flat; I don’t agree, but then I don’t have the experience with rum tasting that others do. This is a rum for mixing, though, not a rum for sipping.

For the curacao, I went with Grand Marnier. (Yup. If you have experience with this cocktail, you’re starting to see why this version didn’t work for me.) Orange curacao is strangely hard to find around here, so I decided to grab something from my shelf rather than getting a special bottle. And I had a feeling the Grand Marnier might not work for me, but I thought I would learn something about building rum drinks by trying anyway.

At the classic proportions (2 parts rum; 1 part each of vermouth and GM; and a dash of grenadine), the drink bombs. The Grand Marnier gallops over every other ingredient. You can taste the rum, but it’s not the centerpiece that it should be. You cannot taste the other ingredients, or at least I couldn’t. A Platinum Presidente merits further exploration, but it certainly needs work.

Version 2

The second version was built precisely according to Matt Robold’s comments and specs, left here in a comment:

One thing on the El Presidente.

I’ve been playing around with the recipe a bit, and I find that the orange liqueur seems to dominate the drink a tad [gee, Matt, ya think?]. My current favorite approach is:

1.5 oz gold rum (I’ve been using Mount Gay Extra Old)
.75 oz dry vermouth
.25 oz orange liqueur (using Clement Creole Shrubb)
1 tsp grenadine

I’ve even been playing around using a lemon peel twist instead of orange, which oddly enough was working beautifully last night.

Now this is  a much better drink. Delicately balanced and crisp, this version lets every ingredient express itself.

A note or seven on the ingredients: Mount Gay Extra Old is a brown rum, with aromas of caramel, toffee, warm spices (cloves, allspice, nutmeg). On the palate, it’s spicy and almost peppery. A great sipping rum, this one also mixes well, as this cocktail demonstrates. Rhum Clement Creole Shrubb is among the drier of the orange liqueurs, a little more subtly orange, and generally less of a hit on the palate. There’s a reason Grand Marnier is often sipped neat after dinner: it’s so viscous and sweet that it coats the tongue and palate, easing them to sleep after a great meal. The Creole Shrubb isn’t like that; I wouldn’t say it’s an eye-opener or an aperitif, but it’s certainly peppier.

I’ll be working through other variations in the next few weeks, but it’s safe to say, Robold’s version is the one to beat.

Good touch, bad touch

So, I get a lot of PR pitches. Most cocktail, wine, and food bloggers do. Some of them are smartly targeted and personalized, but many of them are just kind of dumb. I opened my Gmail account one day to see an email that started “Dear Dash.” An amusing nickname, true, and I suppose that’s better than the “Dear <vname>” message I got one day. And, frankly, I can’t even begin to imagine what the PR folks for Women’s Health magazine are thinking in sending me information on dieting, women’s nutrition, and Madonna’s organic lifestyle.

Now you’ll understand why it was a delight to read a PR email that started this way:

Hey Michael,

Hope all is well. I couldn’t help but notice, from reading your blog, that you have a thing for ginger.

Pitch-perfect PR. By my rough count, there are… let’s see… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 posts that feature or mention something gingery as a drink ingredient. So thank you, Yun Yu, from Fox Greenberg Public Relations, for actually paying attention to what I do and what this blog’s about–not specifically ginger, but about creatively pairing strong flavors and fresh ingredients with spirits.

Thank you, too, for sending up a bottle of Xanté pear and cognac liqueur while all my pals were at Tales of the Cocktail. This stuff is tasty. It’s hard to balance the flavor in a product like this, to keep it from being cloying, but the distillers did a fine job on this one. Morgenthaler describes it well, in a piece where he rightly and humorously sends up its marketing (Xanté’s PR firm is great, but its marketers are insane):

The opening nose is reminiscent of pears poached in cinnamon and wine. The first sip reveals a moderate amount of heat, which dissipates quickly leaving behind an extended finish of basic sugars, pear, light caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and banana.

I find it just a little too sweet to sip neat or on the rocks, but it blends beautifully into cocktails. I think my favorite use for it is in a sidecar variation, with lime juice instead of lemon, and the triple sec reduced just a smidge.

I also find that it pairs well with rum, in an old-fashioned, with Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters. In fact, the marriage of pear, vanilla, and Fee’s warm Christmas spices reminds me so much of Yuletide that I’m going to tuck some of the Xanté away for the holiday season.

Xanté Ginger Martini
photograph by Jennifer Hess.

Now, what’s this to do with ginger? Well, Yun, in contacting me, suggested the Xanté Ginger Martini cocktail. I know, I know, I know; I’m not crazy about the name either. A martini is strictly a drink with gin and vermouth and maybe some orange bitters. It’s not a drink with cognac liqueur and anything else. But call it what you may, it’s a damn fine drink. Here’s the recipe as Yun sent it.

Xanté Ginger Martini

  • 1-1/2 ounces Xanté
  • 1-1/2 ounces lemon juice
  • 1 ounce simple syrup (I’d cut this back to 1/2 ounce, personally, but I was using a rich 2:1 syrup made with Turbinado sugar)
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger
  • 1 thin slice of fresh ginger, for garnish

In a mixing glass, muddle the ginger. Add Xanté, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake over ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and float garnish on top.

Tell you what. Not only is this a fine drink, where all of the elements play well together, but the ginger really helps to bring the pear to the fore. And as we found out last night, Spanish Marcona almonds make a perfect accompaniment to this cocktail. I almost didn’t want to have dinner.

My month of rum: The Lytton Fizz (and a bonus cocktail)

My month of rum continues today, with a couple of drinks featuring Cruzan Black Strap Rum. One of my goals for this project is to explore the depth and breadth of rum; there are very many different styles of rum out there, and yeah, that’s one reason I find the category a little intimidating, but frankly it’s also why it excites me. The idea of tasting my way across the category is pretty cool.

One thing I didn’t really explain last time was that I used Mount Gay Eclipse rum for the Royal Bermuda cocktail. That recipe calls specifically for a Barbados rum, as I mentioned, and I went with the Eclipse because, well, in part because it’s inexpensive, a good bargain at the 22 bucks my local pharmacy charges. (I think they’re overcharging a tad, but they’re so convenient that it’s worth an extra buck or three.) Also, in a rum-101 post, Matt “Rumdood” Robold recommends it as a good starter rum, in the amber/gold category. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now in various things and I find it to be a great mixing rum. It even sips fine, neat or on the rocks, although it’s a little simple for sipping; you’d probably want to go upmarket in the Mount Gay brand for that, and try the Mount Gay Extra Old, which is just delicious.

CruzanBlackStrapRumLTRBack to the black, now. The Black Strap is an interesting beast. You may have seen black-strap molasses around at the grocery and you may have even used it in, say, baked beans, but let’s step back and look at molasses for a moment. To make molasses, sugar producers take sugar cane, extract the juice from it, and then boil the juice so the sugar crystallizes. The molasses this first boiling produces is very sweet because sugar still remains in it. So to economize and wring out as much sugar as they can, producers then boil the sugar out again, and then finally a third time. It’s this third boiling that produces blackstrap. Interestingly, blackstrap molasses is one sweetener that’s actually good for you. The boiling process concentrates all the nutrients in the molasses, so blackstrap is rich in vitamins and minerals, especially iron.

Blackstrap has an important benefit for distillers. Because it ferments quickly, it doesn’t form as many fusel alcohols as other ferments do. Without delving too deeply into distillation-101, let me just say that a certain amount of fusel alcohols are necessary for certain spirits, but if you have too many, the flavor is rough. So they must largely be removed from a distillate before it can be bottled. (It’s the presence of these that in part explains the “rotgut” reputation of plastic-bottle spirits and mason-jar moonshine.) Blackstrap, because it lacks some of these fusels from the start, creates a smooth and easily drinkable rum.

Which also means it mixes well into cocktails, and isn’t that why you’re here? So let’s get on with it.

Lytton FizzThe first drink I have today is something called the Lytton Fizz. I’m not just drinking my way through the rum world right now, I’m also reading it. One of the books on my current reading list is Wayne Curtis‘s excellent And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails. I’m probably the last cocktail geek on the Internet to read this book, shamefully, but that’s okay. The Lytton Fizz is not one of the ten titular drinks, but it does appear in an appendix at the back. It’s the creation of bartender John Myers of Portland, Maine. It’s the last cocktail in the book, and it appealed to me for its seasonal ingredients, mint and Thai basil, both of which we had on hand. There’s a problem with it, though. Here’s the recipe as it appears in Curtis’s book, skipping the herbs:

1/2 oz. falernum
1/4 oz. lime juice
2 dashes of bitters
1/2 oz. dark rum

Hm. Equal parts rum and falernum? That falernum stuff is sweet. Very sweet. And what makes this a fizz is that it’s topped off with fizzy ginger ale. Not to second-guess Messrs. Curtis and Myers, I knew this had to be a simple typo, or the drink would be unbalanced and overly sweet. I told Jen I thought the 1 had gotten lopped off somehow and it should be 1-1/2 oz. rum. So I hit Google and sure enough, the results of the 2005 Rum Fest were posted, and I was right. There, Myers’s recipe calls for an ounce and a half.

So, enough of that. Here’s the recipe from the Rum Fest page:

Lytton Fizz

In a Collins glass, muddle

  • 4 fresh mint leaves
  • 3 Thai basil leaves
  • ½ oz. Falernum
  • ¼ oz. lime juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Fill with ice. Add 1 ½ oz. Cruzan Black Strap Rum and top with ginger ale. Stir.

Be sure to muddle gently, though. Press too hard on the mint, and you’ll open veins in the leaves that will express bitter oils into your drink.

Bonus: Corn ‘n’ Oil

Corn 'n' Oil

  • 2 oz. Cruzan Black Strap Rum
  • 1/4 oz. Falernum
  • 1/4 oz. lime juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Build over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Stir.

Cocktail photographs by Jennifer Hess.

A Month of Rum: Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

I have said this before: rum sits squarely in my blind spot when it comes to mixing cocktails. I find the category a little overwhelming, I must say. Rums span the globe; you can get good rums from just about every continent except Antarctica. Rums made from sugarcane juice or molasses. Rums aged for many years or very few. Rums from Barbados, Cuba, Panama, Guatemala, Martinique, Mauritius, Mexico. Light rums, amber/gold rums, dark rums, spiced rums, flavored rums, overproof rums. It’s … intimidating.

But dayam is it good! I quite enjoy a great martini, a balanced Sidecar, a lovely rye old-fashioned, a good peaty single-malt alone in a glass. But a good sipping rum? I could come around to the notion that there’s the pinnacle of drinking. And rum, used wisely in a cocktail, marries well with a range of flavors.

So it’s finally time to man up, look rum straight in the face, and stop flinching.

From now until mid or late September, I’ll be exploring a month’s worth of rum cocktails–a drink a week that I think really exemplifies what rum brings to a cocktail. And to force myself into unfamiliar territory, there won’t be a daiquiri, Cuba Libre, or Dark and Stormy in the lot. And I am finally going to begin my exploration of the El Presidente, which Matt “Rumdood” Robold recommended months ago, when I was hoping to start exploring rum cocktails.

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

photograph by Jennifer Hess

First up, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail. I brought this one up as an idea for rum-running, before I decided on the El Presidente. I think I first encountered this drink when Doug Winship covered it during his Tiki Month, earlier this year. Even though I gave a lot of thought to running through it for the blog, I still managed to forget about it entirely, until I came across it again in Vintage Spirits. Doc Cocktail doesn’t have much information about it, but it’s apparently an early creation of Trader Vic Bergeron, a pre-Tiki tropical classic. The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club still exists, by the way, but I don’t see any cocktails listed on any of its menus, so I don’t know whether they still serve this drink.

The recipe, curiously, calls for Barbados rum rather than a Bermudan variety. I’m not sure I understand that. The other interesting ingredient is Falernum. I didn’t have the resources to purchase the ingredients to make my own, so I relied on the dusty bottle of John Taylor’s Velvet variety.

Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail

  • 2 oz. Barbados rum
  • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 2 dashes Cointreau (I’d use 1/8 to 1/4 oz. for ease of measuring)
  • 2 tsp. Falernum

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

The Flea Bag Sidecar

I don’t know about you, but I’ve crashed out in a lot of memorable sleeperies over the years. I slept in the Paris hotel where Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn filmed exterior scenes for Charade; during that same vacation, I stayed at a London hostel with co-ed rooms, a first for me. It was a little startling one night to wake up, see a woman slip naked from the bed next to mine, wrap a towel around herself, and exit to the bathroom.


I once drove to Louisiana with some friends and their dawgs. We stopped along the way at a seedy little motel on the side of I-55 north of Jackson, Miss. I pulled back the bedspread and found a burn hole in the sheets, right next to the cigarette butt that had made it. Creepy. On the other hand, we got ribeye steaks delivered in for dinner, and I don’t know many other places in this world that will bring seared ribeyes to your door. The dawgs ate outside.

One thing I’ve learned, whether it’s a roadside joint, a place with live nude girls, or a quaint Parisian hotel, all I need is a place to sleep.

One place I’ve never stayed is the Hôtel Ritz in Paris, and since rooms start at 550 € a night (about $760 US), I don’t think I’ll be staying there soon. I could, however, stop at the famous Ritz Bar and have a drink. Ted Haigh (yes, him again) details one such drink in Vintage Spirits (yes, that book again), the Ritz Sidecar. It’s a simple drink, really–cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, just like a normal Sidecar. What makes it ritzy, though, is the particular cognac. At the time of writing, the barman at the Ritz was using an 1853 E. Remy Martin bottling. Mmmmmmm. The drink costs less than one night’s stay in the hotel, although not significantly so, 400 € ($559 US). That physically hurts, so let’s look at other options.

Let’s call this the Flea Bag Sidecar:

Flea Bag Sidecar

Photograph by Jennifer Hess. Prices that follow come from and may vary based on where you’re located.

For this exercise, buy yourself an American brandy. Fuckin’ do it. It will lack the subtle richness and full mouthfeel of a good cognac, but you’re not sipping it from a snifter, you’re mixing it with other stuff. A Sidecar made from American brandy lacks the complexity of one made from cognac, but this post is about going cheap. And having mixed up a couple of these tonight, I just want to say, they’re pretty good.

A 1.75L bottle of E&J VSOP will run you $17.99 right now at BevMo. This is a bottle you could club a seal with and it’ll cost you less than a Jackson. Not bad. By the way, does E&J ring a bell? No? Maybe Ernest & Julio Gallo will, then.

Cointreau is simply a triple sec, an orange-flavored liqueur made from dried orange peels. It happens to be the best of the triple secs, but it’s also probably the most expensive, unless the barman at the Ritz has a bottle from the cellars of Louis XIII. Go down-market with a liter of Hiram Walker for $9.99. You can make a damn lot of Sidecars from these two bottles.

I don’t know the national-average price for lemons these days, but you can probably get one for about 50¢.

Jen and I like our Sidecars a little tart, so here’s the ratio I like to generally use:

  • 1-1/2 oz. brandy
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. triple sec

Shake over ice, strain into a chilled mixing glass, and smile.

Now let’s just go ahead and price this out. It’s tricky since the bottles are measured in liters and the recipe’s in ounces. I’ll do the math for you and keep it all to myself. Since this isn’t math class, and you’re not Mrs. Abernathy, I don’t need to show my work.*

(On an cents-per-ounce basis, the lemon juice is surprisingly the most expensive ingredient here. You might cut corners further and use Realemon or some other soul-crushing bastardization, but then you’d be the sort of person who eats Spam and Velveeta sandwiches, and I wouldn’t want to know you.)

So, here’s the cost of this Sidecar. Are you ready?

$1.00 US (or .71 €), and that’s if you pay retail prices for all ingredients.

*Oh, all right. 1.75 liters (the brandy) equal 59 ounces. 1 liter (the triple sec) is 34 ounces. (Both figures are rounded off.) At $17.99 a bottle for 59 ounces, the brandy costs 30¢ an ounce. The triple sec is about the same, 29¢ an ounce. You’ll need just one lemon to get 3/4 oz. of juice, and you’ll have a bit of leftover, so you’ll use about 40¢ worth of juice.

Carla Bruni

carlabruniEvery Thursday night, the cats at the Mixoloseum host a chat-room event in which folks get together to share original drink recipes. Cunningly named Thursday Drink Night, this event draws a good crowd each week. This past week’s Thursday Drink Night was sponsored by Martin Miller’s Gin. Now, I’ve written about Miller’s before. It’s a delicate, pot-distilled gin with notes of citrus and cucumber. It’s a favorite at Chez Dietschyblossom, and I love mixing with it.

I don’t often participate in TDN. Usually, Jen and I are catching up on our day right when it tips off, but because of the Miller’s theme, I wanted to participate last week. We had bought some beautiful flowering thyme from the farmer’s market, and I chose to infuse some of it into a small bit of the Miller’s. If you don’t want to take the time for thyme, you can get a similar effect by either muddling a couple sprigs of thyme into the mixing glass, or rubbing it against the inside of a chilled cocktail glass, to release its oils, before pouring the drink into the glass.

I hate naming drinks; coming up with something original is usually difficult. However, I’ve mentioned before that I think naming drinks for famous people is a “great and longstanding tradition” and it’s one I chose to uphold. Who better than the singer, songwriter, former model, and current French first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy? (By the way, if you’ve never heard her sing, and I’ll bet you the first round you haven’t, you should. She’s got a smoky, torch-singer voice.)

(drink photograph by Jennifer Hess)

Carla Bruni

2 oz. thyme-infused gin
¾ oz. Lillet
2 dashes maraschino
2-3 dashes absinthe (be very careful with this, lest you overwhelm the drink)
Thyme sprig, for garnish
Lemon peel, for twist

Stir over cracked ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass, twist lemon peel over surface of drink and discard, and garnish with a thyme sprig. Sip while enjoying this video of Carla Bruni singing her own song, “L’Amoureuse,” from her third album, Comme si de rien n’était.

MxMo Ginger Is In Progress

mxmologoOnce again, it’s time for Mixology Monday. This month, Matt “Rumdood” Robold is hosting, and although the man doesn’t know dilly-oh about an Old Fashioned, he’s a helluva guy with a helluva theme: ginger. Great theme, but a bit of a problem for me.

I love ginger, but I’m a little too comfortable with it. I use Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur a lot, and I use ginger beer/ale quite often, too. I’ve even made my own ginger beer. I wanted to do something new this time, but I was stymied. Knowing my dilemma, Jen got to brainstorming — thinking about not just ginger but also what’s in season right now. “Strawberries! Why not ginger and strawberries!”

I liked it, so I Googled. I found a Persian syrup called sekanjabin (also, sekanjubin or sekanjamin). Apparently, it was originally just a sugared vinegar, but then took on mint. In its basic form, it’s a sweet-and-sour syrup with mint. Interesting that such a simple search introduced me to something new. (Given that no search on this term turns up a cocktail blog or recipe anywhere, I seem to have stumbled on to something, in my own shambling fashion.)

It’s a versatile thing: you can serve the syrup as a salad dressing. Add bread to your salad for a light meal. Or make what’s apparently a typical Persian soft drink by taking the syrup, mixing in still or sparkling water, and stirring.

Hm. Sugar, water, vinegar. Cocktail geeks have been working with shrubs and gastriques for some time, which entail fruit, sugar, water, and vinegar. Let me introduce a new member of the family, the sekanjabin. If you will, a shrub with mint.

Sort of. The sekanjabin doesn’t require fruit.  Writing in The Complete Middle East Cookbook, Tess Mallos lays out a simple recipe for sekanjabin: sugar, water, white vinegar, lemon juice, and mint.

Ginger! Where’s the ginger?!

Sekanjabin ingredients

I found an interesting variant on the basic sekanjabin, with strawberry, ginger, and mint. Inspired by that, but limited by the ingredients on hand, I made my own variation. But unfortunately, it won’t be ready until tomorrow, hence the “…Is In Progress” in the title.

I started with the All Recipes base recipe, but brought in some of Tess Mallos’s ideas and also went my own way in some spots. Again, this is versatile. I want to serve it diluted with soda from the syphon as a non-alcohol drink. I want to serve it with champagne. I want to mix it into cocktails as I would a shrub. I want to pour it on your… wait, I’m getting carried away.

Note, I’m not convinced the overnight maceration is necessary, because it tastes damn fine already. Also, although the final prep calls for straining off the fruit, Jen thinks that if you leave it in, and mix the syrup with wine, you’d have a damn good sangria. See? Versatile!

Strawberry-Ginger Sekanjabin

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 ounces chopped strawberries
  • 1/4 cup chopped mint
  • 3 ounces sliced ginger
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar

In a pan, boil sugars and water over high heat until sugars are dissolved. Stir in strawberries, mint, ginger, and lemon zest and juice. Return to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in vinegars, and let cool. Store overnight at room temperature.

Strain solids from syrup using a fine strainer. Bottle it and store in the refrigerator.