MxMo: Cocktail Virgin

Hey! The awesome ladies of LUPEC Boston are hosting this month’s edition of Mixology Monday, and it’s a subject that I feel kinda warm-and-fuzzy about. Pink Lady posts about a random encounter she had with a Christian-rock musician who had never had a cocktail but wanted to try one, and she wasn’t sure what to recommend. Funny. I used to be a born-again Christian. I don’t remember any of my Christian friends drinking anything stronger than beer or Communion wine. If today’s Christians are looser, I’m cool.

I remember the day I decided to start trying mixed drinks. It was my last day on the job at Pearson Education in Indianapolis, where I copy-edited computer books. I was leaving for Bloomington, 50 miles south, for a master’s program in library and information science. To celebrate my last day, I met up with a bunch of friends for dinner and lots of drinks.

Up to this point, I drank mostly beer and some bourbon, on the rocks or neat. In a weird little emo stage after “breaking up” with a girl I had hardly dated, I chose to drink as much vodka as I could before passing out. I think I had a third of a bottle. Ironically, I had, by this point, turned my back to a moonlighting stint at a liquor store and had never really tucked into the offerings on hand. I was intimidated by all the choices. The big plastic bottles scared me, but the other options frightened me even more. I didn’t know where to begin.

So, my final day of work arrived. I pulled into Buffalo Wild Wings (classy, that’s me) early and awaited my friends. I decided to get brave, to venture into a new frontier of drinking–the mixed drink. The <gasp> cocktail. I wracked my brain trying to decide what to order. Beer with the wings, of course, but what to start with? I’ll ease the suspense. My answer? Gin and tonic.

That, my friends, was my gateway drug into this delightful hobby. (How I got from gin and tonic to Tales of the Cocktail is another post.) That’s the mixed drink that popped my cocktail cherry. What popped yours? (Comment below. Don’t be ashamed.)

In that spirit, I wanted to propose a gin-based fizzy drink. You might recall, from such classic episodes as Guilty Pleasures, that my first drunk drink drunk was at a cousin’s wedding, when I was 14 and drinking a gin-and-Sprite Tom Collins. So I have no qualms about holding gin up as a cherry popper. If I can do it, anyone can.

Shut up and give us a drink, you holler? Okay, dammit. Serve this to your cocktail virgins.

Hail Mary Fizz

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. Grand Marnier (Cointreau, triple sec, whatever)
  • 1/2 oz. Meyer lemon juice

Shake over ice. Strain into a highball glass. Top with fizzy water–tonic, soda, whatever. I sprayed in some soda from my phancy phountain. Garnish with your best wishes and love.

Happy New Year!

As promised/threatened, I made the Ford Cocktail that Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh recommended on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. Doc said to Liane Hansen that this is a drink he wants to revive in 2009 and rightfully so. It’s delicious. He describes it as lovely and beautifully balanced, and once again, the doctor’s prescription is right on the money. I’m happy to do my part.

Although the only source Haigh mentions is “an 1895 book,” I was able to uncover it with my fancy Google fu–George J. Kappeler’s Modern American Drinks.

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Modern American Drinks How to Mix and Serve All Kinds of Cups and Drinks By George J. Kappeler

Haigh modernized the measurements for Hansen as follows:

Ford Cocktail

  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. dry vermouth
  • 3 dashes Benedictine
  • 3 dashes orange bitters
  • Orange twist, for garnish

Technique: Stir over cracked ice in a mixing glass. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.

Notes: Doc didn’t actually mention the garnish to Hansen, but since it’s in Kappeler’s, I’ve added it. You can see from Jen’s photo that I used lemon. You might recall that Jen’s allergic to orange. Finally, to address the perennial question–how much is 3 dashes of Benedictine?–I dashed the orange bitters first into my measuring cup and noted the level. I then carefully measured a roughly equal amount of Benedictine.

Martin Miller’s Mixological Might!

Last weekend, Martin Miller’s Gin hosted a gin mixers’ competition at Death & Co. in New York. Bartenders from the UK and the US battled to impress a distinguished panel of judges. Although invited to attend, I was unable to do so, having made previous plans to adopt a kitten this weekend. Yes, that’s right, a kitten, smartass.

I was able, though, to join Miller co-founder David Bromige and his posse at Milk & Honey on Friday evening. As surprising as this may seem, this was my first visit to M&H, and I’m grateful to Miller’s PR man, James Monahan, for the invitation.

First, let me describe Milk & Honey, for those who’ve never been. Getting in is not easy; you need the unpublished number, and you need to reserve in advance. M&H founder Sasha Petraske wants to keep the vibe intimate, the bar uncrowded, and the sidewalk outside the bar uncluttered by chattering fools. If you’ve ever been inside or outside a crowded New York bar on a weekend night, you can see the advantage to his approach.

Nothing outside the bar announces that it’s a bar. Well, almost nothing. There’s a red metal pail hanging from a hook, filled with sand and cigarette butts. The letters “M &” are on the door, the H having disappeared by the time of my visit. The bar is inside a storefront that at one point was apparently a tailor’s shop. (Incidentally, I’d love to know the pre-M&H history of the space. If anyone knows, e-mail me–adashofbitters at gmail dot com–or comment here.)

The bar has six tables (banquettes), plus bar stools and a bit of standing room. The tight control at the door means you never have to push through a crowd to move through the bar. Nothing irritates me so much as having to make people physically move so I can reach the bar, the loo, or the exit. M&H has no cocktail menu but will match a drink to your taste. Our table ordered a batch of Miller’s-based gin drinks–two Last Words, a Ramos Gin Fizz for Mr. Bromige, and a Negroni for me. (The best Negroni I’ve had. I wonder what vermouth they used.)

David Bromige is a wonderful drinking companion. He briefly related the history of his spirit, and how he, Martin Miller, and Andreas Versteegh came up with the formula, after many, many rounds of testing. He described the gin as a vanity project, one that they enjoyed so well they eventually chose to market it.

He described Miller’s distillation process: the botanicals are steeped in grain alcohol for 24 hours before distilling. Actually, the botanicals are steeped in batches. One batch, in one still, contains juniper, iris, cassia, licorice, coriander, angelica, orris, and nutmeg; the other batch contains citrus peels. This brings a layered, nuanced flavor to the final product. They then ship the distillate to Iceland, where it’s cut with glacial water, bottled, and shipped to its destination.

Iceland provides another advantage than just the water–it’s midway between Miller’s two main markets, Europe and the United States. This cuts the cost of shipping the gin to the U.S.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler has an extensive series of posts with more details and photos of the process, beginning here. Morgenthaler was a guest of the people of Miller’s Gin, who flew him over to convince his skeptical mind that the Icelandic water actually does matter to the flavor of the gin.

Anyway, we finished up at M&H and moved on to Sasha Petraske’s newest place, White Star Bar. Although White Star specializes in absinthe, this didn’t feel like the night to expand my mind; I’ve only tried three or four products in the absinthe category. Instead, I tried something off the well-curated cocktail menu–the American Trilogy, a mix of rye whiskey, applejack, and orange bitters.

I also got to chat, albeit very briefly, with Jamie Boudreau and Paul Clarke, both of whom were in town to participate in the competition. Boudreau was there to dazzle the judges with his gleaming white smile, and Paul was along to snap his fellow judges out of Jamie’s spell. “Don’t fall for his charm! It’s a trap!”

But our visit was altogether too short because everyone else was off to Employees Only bar for a late-night nosh and more drinks. I, on the other hand, didn’t want to barge in on my crash-pad host at 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 am, and I had a busy Saturday planned, adopting the aforementioned kitten with Mrs. Bitters.

I’ll post again soon on results from the competition, plus a couple of images that James e-mailed, and maybe a couple more jokes at Paul Clarke’s expense.

Martin Millers Gin: Be a Tastemaker

MxMo: 19th Century Drinks, or, An Ode to Those Libations and Tipples that Once Graced America’s Finest Drinking Emporia

Greetings, friend. From the fresh wax on your mustache, I gather you’ve just left the barber’s. Well, have a seat and let The Only Dietsch mix you up a cup or two. I have a couple of sips you might like.

Now, I think you might have had this first one before. Yes, I think you just might. The bar was a bit busy that night, and so I’m not sure you got to watch the master in action. This is a drink, my friend, that calls for a touch of finesse. What? That’s an unkind thing to say, sir, mighty unkind. I don’t have to remind you where the door is, now, do I sir?

No, no, I am merely jesting with you, sir, merely jesting. I would never turn away your custom, sir. Now, as I was saying. This drink requires a light touch to achieve the layering effect that marks this drink as one of refinement. No, no, I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t a sweet drink like a Pousse Cafe! Not at all. Leave those to that dilettante Ellestad! You’ll have none of those in my bar!

All right, all right. To the drink, then, to the drink.

Text not available

Modern American Drinks How to Mix and Serve All Kinds of Cups and Drinks By George J. Kappeler

(Stepping out of character, I followed the instructions David Wondrich gives in the book Imbibe, and used 2 oz. Plymouth gin with a teaspoon of rich simple syrup–hence the darker coloring in the gin portion. The bitters are Bitter Truth orange, and I used 3/4 oz. port.)

Yes, sir, I agree that it’s a fine drink. When you sip it slowly, the port gently seeps up through the gin and gently enriches the genever. Why, sir, if this drink is not still served in the bars and taverns of the twenty-first century, I should be mightily sad.

But now, remember, young lad. When you’re adding the port, be careful. Take it slow. If you don’t, the port will co-mingle with the gin, and although the drink will still taste just fine, it will not be as elegant. We are gentlemen, sir, always remember. We do not simply guzzle the way the hoopleheads do.

If you’ve done it right, it should look just like this:

Now, as to the next, this upstart William Schmidt, I do swear he stole this drink from me. I was mixing this back when he was still tramping around Paducah, Kentucky, waiting to stow away on an Ohio River steamer to Memphis. The man is a scalawag, and not at all a gentleman like you and me, sir. But let us not consider his sort.

I believe you will like this one, sir. I think you will find that the sherry and vermouth balance quite toothsomely. The other ingredients round out the flavor without bringing themselves to the fore.

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The Flowing Bowl When and what to Drink : Full Instructions how to Prepare, Mix, and Serve Beverages By William Schmidt

Now, sir, would you kindly tel … <cough cough>

I’m throwing off this pretense entirely right now, so I can talk about this drink.

I used, for two drinks, a generous squirt of simple syrup for the gum. Yah, a squirt. Don’t tell me you always precisely measure your simple syrup, dangit.

Angostura might be the closest thing to a nineteenth-century bitters that I have, although I don’t know how to categorize Fee’s Old Fashioned or Bitter Truth’s Old Time Aromatic Bitters. Regardless, I used Angostura, about two to three dashes worth for two drinks.

Also, two or three dashes worth of Lucid absinthe. I’ve transferred my remaining Lucid to a old Fee’s bottle for dashing purposes.

For two drinks, I used 4 oz. Italian vermouth and 2 oz. oloroso sherry–to retain the 2:1 ratio. I don’t really know what vino vermouth is, but Paul Clarke suggests that it’s Italian vermouth, and that’s good enough for me. He uses Carpano Antica for this type of drink, but I’ve yet to find a source for that in Rhode Island. I’ll probably have to special-order it from our friends at Eno.

Finally, this is a damn good drink. Light in alcohol but rich in flavor. I think the Antica would bring a bit more complexity than the Cinzano I’m currently using, but even so, we loved the balance of flavors.

Oh, and back to the Princeton? I’d love to see that on a drinks menu somewhere. It’s a beautifully balanced drink, and it looks just lovely in the glass. Yeah, it takes a bit of work to get it just so, but no more than a properly prepared Sazerac or Pisco Sour.

Many thanks to Dinah for hosting.

Photography by Jennifer Hess; all rights reserved.

More local flavor

I never really finished my local-flavor MxMo post last week. Gunning up to the deadline, writing when I was already exhausted, and laughing at a night’s inebriation are all fine, but I slammed into a wall that told me it was time to hit the sack.

Had I continued, I’d have written about this wonderful thing:

It’s an heirloom martini, inspired by a drink of the same name that Jen ordered at Gracie’s restaurant, here in Providence. We’ve been to a number of restaurants and bars in Providence, and we’ve learned it’s hard to get a really great cocktail here. There’s some damn fine cuisine in Providence, but the bar programs are lagging behind the kitchens. You just see a lot of the same vodka-based craptails from place to place. I don’t know whether it’s the bar managers or the patrons who are so uninspired, but it’s disappointing.

I do want to talk about the exceptions, though, and Gracie’s is one. I arrived early to our dinner at Gracie’s on Thursday, the Seventh of August, so I took a seat at the bar to wait for Jen. Anter, the newly installed bar manager, was working the stick, and we got to talking. I started off by asking about rye. He had Sazerac, which he stirred for me into a Manhattan. He usually keeps Old Overholt and, when he can get it, Rittenhouse, but he doesn’t sell enough rye cocktails to go deeper than those three.

That branched out into a good discussion of spirits and cocktails in general. There’s little in cocktail-geekery that’s more fun than getting to know a good bartender who’s both smart and creative behind the bar. (As an aside, long-time readers might remember me talking about Jim, one of the bar guys at Dressler, in Brooklyn. I ran into Jim down at Tales of the Cocktail and was able to chat for a few minutes. The guy remembered Jen and me even though we hadn’t been in there since a couple of months before the move. He’s still got a damn good memory. We’ll have to get back there soon.)

Back to the business of that drink, though. While I was waiting for Jen, another man came in, approached the bar, and starting talking to Anter. He asked whether Anter still had “that heirloom martini” on the menu, and Anter said, “Yes, we do.” I looked for it immediately when Jen came in and we were seated and handed menus. Gin (or vodka), heirloom tomato water, and pickled tomatoes for garnish. That’s it. He may have used a touch of vermouth, too, but I didn’t taste any.

So that was pretty easy to re-create last weekend. Jen took an heirloom tomato, chunked it, wrapped it in cheesecloth, and suspended it in a mesh strainer over a bowl. She squeezed it from time to time, but mostly let the liquid drain out. I took a small amount, about half an ounce, and stirred it with cracked ice and 5-1/2 ounces of gin in a chilled mixing glass. Jen had previously pickled some small tomatoes, and we used them for garnish.

MxMo in the Crescent City

Mixology Monday logoFor this month’s Mixology Monday, which has a New Orleans theme, I’m going with a couple of drinks, both inspired by panels that I attended at Tales of the Cocktail.

The first drink is the Sloppy Joe’s Mojito, inspired obliquely by the To Have and Have Another panel, on the drinking life of Ernest Hemingway. Whether Hemingway actually drank Mojitos appears to be in some dispute. The eminent Eric Felten argues persuasively that he probably did not, but it is clear that old Papa frequented the Havana bar that originated this version of the classic rum drink. He even apparently persuaded the proprietor of a Key West saloon to rip off the Havana original’s name. So, who knows?

Charles Baker, writing in The Gentleman’s Companion, describes the drink thus:

Put several lumps of ice into a 16 oz collins glass, toss in 1 tsp sugar or gomme, insinuate a spiral green lime peel about the ice, turn in 1-1/2 jiggers of Bacardi; white, or Gold Seal, and the strained juice of 1 small green lime–not a lemon. Stir once, fill with really good club soda and garnish with a bunch of fresh mint.

What I love about this variant is that a) it’s not too sweet, and b) it’s not too minty. I don’t feel like I’m chewing rum-spiked Doublemint gum.

The second drink comes straight from the Beefeater reception at Palace Cafe and also the Juniperlooza session. I had heard of this drink prior to Tales, but I had never tried it. It’s the Jasmine cocktail, devised by architect and booze writer Paul Harrington. It tastes remarkably like grapefruit juice even though it contains no grapefruit whatsoever. Honestly, this is one of those drinks that I often post where I’m sure the majority of my single-digit readership is thinking, “What! New to the Jasmine? He needs to crawl out from under Plymouth Rock or wherever the hell he lives and actually drink from time to time!”

No argument here, Skippy. I will say this, though. I’ve mixed a lot of cocktails at home, and I’ve had many others out. It’s a rare treat when something passes my lips and earns a spot in my regular drinks rotation. The Jasmine is right there. Jen and I both adore it. It tastes like an old-school cocktail, even though it’s not old enough to drive, let alone drink, and the ingredients are perfectly balanced. A new favorite.


  • 1-1/2 oz gin
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz Cointreau
  • 1/4 oz Campari
  • lemon twist for garnish

Technique: Shake, strain, add garnish, sip, and smile.

Many thanks to Paulernum Clarke for hosting.

Photos by Jennifer Hess.

Raspberry-Thyme Smash

I don’t talk about this here, since this ain’t the right venue for it, but my first geek love, long before I ever enjoyed bourbon or gin, is the comics. Not the stand-up sort (although I love them, too–don’t get me started on NYC’s Moonwork, or I’d-be-here-all-week-try-the-veal), but the printed type. Peanuts, Bloom County, New Yorker gags, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Jules Feiffer, Little Annie Fanny, the beat goes on.

This is all to say I really dig on what Doc Bamboo‘s been up to. I can barely even post once a month, let alone draw a crazy-lovely picture with each post. I know from cartoonists, and I think Craig’s a damn good cartoonist. And on top of it all, he makes a good drink.

Which finally gets to the point of this post: the Raspberry-Thyme Smash. Craig and Mrs. Bitters both read Bon Appetit, and the Raspberry-Thyme Smash caught their eyes. Craig’s already posted it, with a great cartoon, a funny story about a muddler, and the recipe for the drink.

Jen and I are lucky. When we moved to Providence, we landed in a place with raspberry bushes in our patio. And we’re growing thyme for cooking purposes, so the Raspberry-Thyme Smash was a natural. After all, we always have gin around.

So, without boring you any longer, our version of the Raspberry-Thyme Smash:

Raspberry Thyme Smash