MxMo Massa Mojito

Massa Mojito

The best thing about Mixology Monday is that you have to try every drink at least twice: once to test it and once to photograph it. Today’s experiment worked on the first try, so I’m writing this entry just two drinks in.

This month’s MxMo is hosted by Anna at Morsels and Musings, who challenges us to make cocktails with fruit liqueur. I dipped into Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology to find the limoncello-based Massa Mojito. Gary writes:

Adapted from a recipe from Pizzicato Restaurant in Philadelphia, this interesting variation on the classic Mojito calls for Villa Massa Limoncello. This particular bottling of limoncello isn’t as sweet as most of the other commercial brands, so if you experiment with other bottlings you must take their relative sweetness into account.

I don’t have Villa Massa on hand, but as longtime readers know, I like to make my own limoncello. Assuming that mine is a little sweeter, I found that this slight tweaking of Regan’s recipe makes a tasty, refreshing cooler:

4 wedges lemon
1 tsp sugar
~15 mint leaves
2.5 oz limoncello
club soda

Muddle the lemons, sugar, and mint, then shake over ice with the limoncello. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and top with the soda. Perfect for chilling out in the summer.

Update 4/17/08: The complete roundup is now available here.


Blue Beetle cocktail

Blue Beetle cocktail

Here’s another drink I came up with the for the DC blogger buffet. I didn’t have any vodka drinks on the menu and wanted to put something on there for people who go for fruit-and-vodka drinks. I never make this kind of thing, so this was a challenge.

I’d recently picked up a bottle of Saint Germaine elderflower liqueur and immediately thought of pairing it with blueberries. The combination worked fairly well as a standard sour, but was still falling a little flat. The orange flower water I keep on hand for gin fizzes was just the thing to liven it up. After a bit of tweaking, I finally settled on the following recipe:

2 oz vodka
10-12 blueberries
1/4 oz simple syrup
1/3 oz Saint Germaine
1/2 oz lemon juice
splash of orange flower water

Blue Beetle cocktailMuddle together the simple syrup and blueberries, then shake over ice with the other ingredients. Strain into a cocktail glass. (The photos show it served on the rocks, but I no longer do this.)

The drink is made with blueberries and vodka. It comes out pink. It’s a bit girly. But damn it, I like it, and so has everyone else who’s tried it. I guess I’m stuck with this one in my spring lineup at the home bar.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I did name the drink after Ted Kord.

[Photos by David Barzelay.]

Previously: Earl of Pegu


Earl of Pegu

Earl of Pegu

This past weekend should have been my chance to get something ready for Mixology Monday, but I was distracted with another cocktail project. The topic was fun though, challenging bloggers to mix up drinks so strong that they’re “limit one.” Kaiser Penguin has the roundup.

Instead of participating in MxMo, I was getting things ready for the first ever DC Food Blogger Buffet. Organized by Lemmonex and Betty Joan, and hosted by Barzelay, Sunday was a night for local bloggers to come together and show off their stuff. I wasn’t about to inflict my “cooking” on innocent food writers (still working on the solid food thing), but luckily I was invited to experiment with a few cocktails instead.

I’ll post recipes for a few of the cocktails I made throughout the week. To lead them off, here’s the Earl of Pegu, a Pegu cocktail modified to complement the bergamot flavors of Earl Grey tea:

1.5 oz. Earl Grey infused gin
1/2 oz. Cointreau
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1/4 oz. lemon juice
dash of Angostura bitters
dash of orange bitters
lemon twist garnish (optional)

The infusion is made by letting a few pinches of tea soak in an affordable gin. It comes out richly colored, aromatic, and with some of the tannic astringency of the tea (so don’t let it infuse too long). Shaken into the cocktail, it makes a tasty, refreshing, and complex beverage. This one will become a staple in my home bar.

Bonus cocktail link: Crispy on the Outside makes its YouTube debut with that Irish classic, the McJito.


Sazerac variations

I was busy getting back to my coffee roots this weekend, but not so busy that I couldn’t put together a little something for this month’s Mixology Monday. Jimmy Patrick is hosting today, with the theme “Variations.”

After the absinthe tasting from a couple of weeks ago, I decided to keep playing around with the Sazerac. Here’s a traditional formula:

2 oz. rye whiskey
several dashes Peychaud’s bitters
rinse of absinthe
sugar cube
lemon zest rubbed on the glass rim

Earlier recipes called for the use of brandy, the switch to rye taking effect when a phylloxera blight wiped out French grape crops in the late 1800s. So for this MxMo, I took another look at the older recipe using Hennessey VS. For comparison I also mixed up a new variation, keeping the brandy but substituting a rinse of Cynar for the absinthe. Cynar is a brown, bitter Italian aperitif distilled from artichokes and other herbs. Not an enticing description, but with a little thought it can add interesting depth to a cocktail.


I learned long ago the importance of tasting various coffees side-by-side, but it’s something I’ve done too little of with cocktails. Tasting these two Sazerac variations was an eye-opening experience. First of all, it really brought home how important that absinthe rinse is. Trying a version without it brings home just how much anise flavor is in the drink, something I hadn’t tasted with the same intensity before.

Second, it made me see what a wonderfully harmonious cocktail the Sazerac is. The brandy serves as a great vehicle for the absinthe, with neither overpowering the other, coming together like a perfectly struck chord. The Cynar version — call it a Cynarac — is instead a study in contrast. The nutty, herbal bitterness of the Cynar brings forward the fruit in the brandy, which then gives way to a pleasantly bitter aftertaste. Both drinks are good, but they work in completely different ways.

Kudos to Jimmy for putting forward this MxMo idea. Trying out these variations not only gave me a new cocktail to enjoy, but enhanced my appreciation for one of the classics.

Update 2/12/08: Jimmy’s posted the complete wrap-up here. Be sure to check the entry from Jamie Boudreau, who also takes on the Sazerac and comes up with a variation I’ll be trying out tonight.


Night with the Green Fairy

When I was in New York last month I stopped into a liquor store to pick up a bottle of Lucid, the first genuine absinthe approved for sale in the U.S. in nearly a century. With unusual restraint I held onto the bottle through the holidays and for several weeks after, waiting until I could have a few friends over to try it out. A few days ago we finally got around to cracking it open — about a week after it became available in DC.

[Pale green Lucid, before the louche]

The story of how absinthe came to be banned, degraded, and finally reborn, is long and winding. The short version is this: In 1912, on the basis of myths about its tendency to drive people mad, prohibitionists succeeded in getting absinthe banned by name in the United States. In 1972 the ban on absinthe was superceded by a more scientifically precise definition. The new rule forbade products containing thujone, a chemical found in wormwood, in quantities greater than 10 ppm.

For decades it was assumed that this requirement effectively prohibited absinthe. In fact, it has been shown that at least some traditional recipes come in well below the legal limit. Once this was realized, talented distillers began once again to develop products for the American market, navigating byzantine government requirements every step of the way. (The launch of one brand has been delayed by the Treasury Department’s disapproval of a monkey on the label. Government regulators actually make a living considering such things.) Now, finally, Americans have access to a few artisan absinthes instead of just lousy smuggled knock-offs and extremely bitter “kits.”

Absinthe is very high in alcohol; Lucid weighs in at a serious 124 proof. This is one good reason to dilute it with ice water. The other is that the water transforms the drink, bringing out insolubles from the herbs that soothe the liquor’s soul and give it much more complexity. This is the louche that turns it from a clear green to milky white. Before adding water, Lucid is hot and powerfully anise-flavored. After, it’s smoother, with notes of licorice candy and herbs. Stirring a sugar cube into the glass is another option. About half of our group preferred it that way. (Lighting the cube on fire is a contemporary bar trick and not generally recommended.)

Absinthe tasting
[Jason Talley listens intently to his absinthe-driven hallucination of Radley Balko]

Drinking absinthe straight isn’t for everybody all the time. A great way to use it is in the Sazerac, one of the classic cocktails with which bartenders endlessly tinker. Here’s a typical recipe:

2 oz. rye whiskey
Several dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Rinse of absinthe
sugar cube
lemon zest

Chill one cocktail glass with ice water. In a pint glass, muddle the sugar with the bitters. Add ice, add the rye, and shake. Pour out the water from the first glass and rinse it with absinthe. Strain the rye mixture into the glass, wipe the rim with lemon zest, and serve. It’s a fantastic drink. (Early recipes called for cognac instead of rye. I like the spice of the latter, but try both.)

[Bonus photo: Fire with absinthe might be lame, but there’s nothing lame about capping the night with Jeff Morgenthaler’s Angostura-Scorched Pisco Sour. “Flare” bartending?]

For more background on absinthe, see the cover story in the latest Imbibe, this New York Times article, or the Wormwood Society. Absinthe spoons and other accessories are available at La Maison d’Absinthe.

[Credit to Radley and Courtney for the photos.]


Calvados times two

It’s a good thing this month’s Mixology Monday closes at midnight Pacific Standard Time, because otherwise I’d never have made it in under the wire. First a plugin I installed to make my site faster completely backfired, then literally minutes after that was fixed DreamHost ran into tons of database problems. Now everything is finally working… for the moment. It’s a enough to make a guy hit the brandy.

Luckily, that’s the theme for this MxMo, hosted by Marleigh at Sloshed! (Thanks, Marleigh!)

At Open City, the bar where I work, we have a tea called Chaucer’s Cup from Serendipitea. It’s a tisane made from dried apples and mangos, cloves, cardamom, ginger, and various other fruits and spices. It’s popularly served here infused into hot apple cider.

Chaucer’s Toddy

It’s a tea I rarely drink, but it struck me that the tea and the bottle of calvados (French apple brandy) I’ve been enjoying at home would naturally go together. And so Chaucer’s Toddy was born:

6 oz Chaucer’s cup tea
2 oz calvados
1 cinnamon stick

Chaucer’s Toddy

This one came together on the first try. It’s very basic, with no sweetener or lemon added as is done in many toddies. Either addition could be alright, but the apple in the tea and the apple in the brandy go together so well that there’s no reason to add distractions. Simple, but it works.

This MxMo also gave me the reason I needed to open up a beer I’ve been holding on to for about a year, J. W. Lees Harvest Ale Calvados Cask, brewed in 2005. It’s an English barley wine at 11.5% abv, a serious ale. It pours with a lot of sediment, has just a little carbonation, and is richly sweet, malty, and well-balanced. The hint of the brandy is subtle. I don’t often get to drink Lees’ Harvest Ales, and if I did I might have been able to pick out more of the barrel’s contribution. Even so, it’s a great beer, perfect for capping a winter weekend and following a hot calvados toddy.

[Cross-posted at Eatfoo.]

Update 1/19/08: Marleigh’s got the complete round-up here.


Saturday night Dog’s Nose

It’s Saturday night and before going out I’m feeling like tinkering in the home bar, so I start browsing through Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology to find something new I can make with the ingredients I have on hand. Eventually I hit on the Dog’s Nose:

12 ounces porter or stout, microwaved to luke warm
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 ounces gin
freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

The Dog’s Nose is mentioned in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, in which a character named Mr. Walker blames his habit for taking the drink for losing the use of his right hand. Not exactly a strong endorsement for a cocktail that combines warm stout with gin…

Even so, I try it out. It’s actually pretty good! A weird combination, but it works, and makes a nice drink for a winter night. The kind of drink I’ll enjoy just on occasion, rarely enough that I expect I’ll be using my right hand for a long time to come. (No jokes about my dating life, please!)

I hated reading A Tale of Two Cities in high school, but this concoction evens the score between Dickens and me.


The smell of freedom

It’s not every Sunday morning that I wake up and make myself a cocktail — really, Mom, it’s not! — but with just one day to go before Mixology Monday I needed to get cracking. If only my college homework had been this fun…

The theme this month is Repeal Day. We’re now thankfully free to celebrate with a good drink, but our freedom to savor a pleasant smoke with it is increasingly under attack by smoking bans and excessive taxes. Thus I thought it fitting to try incorporating tobacco into a cocktail for my first MxMo entry. If we can’t light it, we might as well drink it.

Eww! Yeah, I know. Tobacco is meant to be smoked. But since that’s less and less of an option, bringing it into drink form is a worthy challenge. I tried out several different methods, including making a sample of vodka infused with Dunhill Early Morning pipe tobacco and a brown sugar simple syrup simmered with the same blend. Both of these concoctions picked up the aroma of the tobacco amazingly well. Unfortunately, they took on an exceedingly strong taste, too. Unless you like licking ash trays, not good.

Even so, using the syrup with whiskey or bourbon did seem to have potential, but I couldn’t get the balance quite right. Inspired by rock star barista Jay Caragay’s famous signature drink, I infused a couple of cigars into cream instead. Since Partagas Black is one of my go-to cigars, is bold and spicy, and available in convenient packs of six in its small Pronto size, it was a worthy choice for the experiment and after two nights of infusion the cream was a few shades off white and carryied the cigars’ flavor.

What to do with it? Scotch and cigars are a classic pairing, so the godson cocktail seemed like a natural choice. To give the tobacco-infused cream more of a starring role, I lightly whipped it to a runny texture so I could float it on top of the drink instead of mixing it into the shaker. Thus this recipe was born:

2 oz. scotch (I used Glenlivet)
1/2 oz. amaretto (I used Disaronno)
whipped tobacco cream

For the cream:
1 cup light whipping cream
2 Partagas Black Prontos, sliced and left to infuse for 24-48 hours

The scotch and amaretto are shaken and strained into a cocktail glass. The cream, strained and whipped, is then spooned on top. The final result looks like this:

Partagas cocktail

And the taste? It’s not ready for prime time, but it’s all right as a concept cocktail. The taste of the tobacco comes through subtly without creating the burn I got with the simple syrup. With a little tweaking it could be a winner. Perhaps the cream could also be used in a white Russian or with Patron XO Cafe, bringing it closer to Jay’s original coffee and a cigar idea. In the future I’d also like to try making tobacco bitters; this seems like it might be the best way to capture the aroma of tobacco and work it into a drink without the flavor becoming too dominant. [Disclaimer: If you try any of these things, as with smoked tobacco, it’s probably best to do so in moderation.]

It’s safe to say I won’t be toasting the 5th with this drink. Since I’ll be celebrating Repeal Day in Virginia, I’ll be free to enjoy a real scotch and cigar instead. Ah, can’t wait!

Big thanks to Jeff for hosting this month’s Mixology Monday and doing so much to promote Repeal Day. I’ll post a link to all the MxMo entries as soon as his post up.

Update 12/4: Jeff’s MxMo roundup is here.

Update II: Jimmy completes the wrap-up. Thanks, Jimmy!