Cocktail Backstory: The Communist and Tom Collins

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A perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy.” – Noël Coward

 

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“Barkeep!” says I.
“Aye, miss, what shall I make for ye?” says he.
“I would like a cocktail…with an interesting backstory.”

The gauntlet was thrown, and he met the challenge with two words,”Communist Cocktail.”

 

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He didn’t know the details, but said the cocktail’s name had to do with the era during which it was created. As I sat waiting for my cocktail, he handed me a book entitled, “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails”.

 

I looked up The Communist:

“This enjoyable number with the unforgettable name derived from a crude and otherwise quite forgettable cocktail pamphlet from 1933 titled Cocktail Parade. As photographers say, though, it just takes one picture.”

 

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Huh. Not much of a backstory. When my drink arrived, turns out it wasn’t much of a cocktail, either. My reaction after a couple of sips was a shrug and a “Meh.”

It became apparent that the only thing this cocktail had going for it was its cool name. And clearly, it did belong in a “Forgotten Cocktails” book. Not only should it be forgotten, they should also put a “Do Not Rescucitate” warning next to the recipe.

 

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Here’s a cocktail that actually has somewhat of an interesting backstory:

Tom Collins

Back in 1874, someone decided to play a joke a bunch of New Yorkers. He’d go to one person, asked them if they knew someone named Tom Collins. “Nope, never heard of him.” they’d say. Then they’d be told Tom’s been bad-mouthing them all over town, ruining their reputation. Of course, the enraged person would go on a revenge-seeking manhunt for Tom Collins, ready to lynch the slandering bastard.

This would be done over and over again to different people, until what began as one upset person became a vengeful, angry horde. This lame joke went so viral it became “The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874.”

One bartender decided to capitalize on this trend by creating a cocktail called Tom Collins. Anyone popping into his bar looking for Tom Collins would end up ordering the cocktail. Hilarious, right?

Here’s a youtube video, in case you wanted to try making this at home. The recipe itself is after the post.

Click on image to watch video

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Corpe Reviver #2

This cocktail doesn’t have an elaborate backstory, but I like the name. In my last blog post (Cocktails – Craft versus Cool), I ordered a Corpse Reviver #2. When made properly, it’s actually one of my favorite cocktails. Interestingly, it was one of several other concoctions of the same name that was originally created in the 1930s as a hangover cure…

Hangover cure = Corpse reviver.

Get it?  :^  )

 

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Tom Collins Cocktail
Recipe courtesy of New York Times

2 ounces Old Tom gin (like Ransom)
1 ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce lemon juice
Soda water
Lemon wedge, for garnish
Cocktail cherry, for garnish

Shake gin, syrup and juice with ice until chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled highball. Top with soda water. Garnish with lemon wheel or wedge and a cherry.

 

 

 

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Cocktails – Craft versus Cool

 

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It was Saturday evening, in a city known for its (over)abundance of local character and characters. I was shopping for next season’s lipsticks, when a huge fight broke out at the department store’s entrance.

Shoppers inside and bystanders outside ran with their camera phones towards the drama. Security guards lowered the massive steel doors to keep rioters from breaking through the glass entrance walls, and looting the high-class, designer-label merch. An ambulance and cop cars showed up.

Helluva way to start a bar crawl.

 

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The bar I went to for some post-riot Zen showcased their offerings beautifully. It was almost happy hour, and the place was filling up quickly. I managed to get a seat at the bar and ordered a dry martini with olives.

 

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In under a minute, I felt that something was off. I looked around to see what it could be. There was no background music. The chatter was getting louder as more people arrived; the noise was crashing against the concrete walls and low ceilings. Plus, the lights were too bright.

I could usually chill at a bar with a normal-ish vibe, but somehow, this evening, everything and everyone at this particular bar was getting on my nerves. Maybe that adrenaline rush from the riot was making me crave another kind of cocktail experience – something odd/interesting/dangerous. And so I just didn’t have the patience for “normal” right now. I finished my cocktail and left.

 

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I wandered over to a bar with a balcony like a stylish penthouse overlooking downtown, and had the Shen cocktail, an Asian spin on the Manhattan. Sipping it was like floating in a volcano-heated pool in the middle of a forest on a warm summer night. Pure bliss.

I was ready for my next experience.

 

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Just for the sake of contrast, a dive bar was next on my list. In every Chinatown I’ve been to, I have always felt that walking alone in a sketchy part of town, surrounded by grime, crime and shadows was really stupid. And I was feeling all kinds of stupid now. I hurried over to the bar. The last thing I needed to be doing was standing alone in an alley in Chinatown, pulling out a camera phone in front of these staring, homeless men to capture this Instagram moment. If I kept moving, I might just be okay.

 

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The bar was populated with beardos with attitudes, hipsters, sex industry workers and “tourists” who drove in from the west side for some atmosphere. The booze selection was limited to beer (NOT the craft brew variety), hard liquor shots and PBR. Their idea of a cocktail would be Jagermeister in a clean shot glass. I opted for good, reliable Makers Mark – also my bourbon of choice for Manhattans.

I love bars with an interesting history. Back in the day, guys who got falling-down-drunk at this and other bars in the area would be kidnapped and transported in underground tunnels. When the men woke up, they found themselves on a ship, out at sea, and forced into servitude.

I sipped my drink while trying not to stare at a couple of call girls, dressed like Barbie doll twins. They sat, silent and bored, next to a couple of young, clean-cut, obviously drunk guys dressed in business casual, talking and laughing overly loud about software companies and upcoming projects. Suddenly, one of the guys looked over at the two rent-a-dates, yelled “Yeah! YEEAAAAHHH!” and pumped his fist into the air. The girls looked at him briefly then away, still silent, still bored. I finished my drink, left quickly, and burst out laughing as soon as I was outside.

 

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One of my girlfriends texted me to meet up at a downtown bar, one of her favorites. It was named after a thief that operated within a labyrinthian network of hideouts in the criminal underworld of 1930s Morocco. She was downstairs, saving me a seat.

 

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The foyer was bright, but the lights got dimmer as I walked down a stairway to a small, subterranean cocktail bar. I spotted my friend waiting for me at a table in the far corner, glaring at me like some moody European when I walked over and took her picture.

 

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The bar’s ceiling was curved, the walls decorated with tastefully framed porn, and I found “secret” meeting spots just around the corners. I was enamored with the place. The cocktail, though, was another story.

 

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The drinks menu was a short but impressive selection of house cocktails and classics. According to my research, the bartender at Pepe Le Moko was outstanding, but he wasn’t working that night, unfortunately. Because I was enjoying myself so much and thought nothing could possibly go wrong, I decided to order off-menu. Nothing strange, just another classic cocktail.

 

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I was sure a place with a reputation for cocktail greatness couldn’t possibly screw up the Corpse Reviver #2. I checked with the server, to see if the bartender had the knowledge and materials to create the cocktail I wanted. I was assured that she did.

And yet there it was, a very pretty cocktail that tasted like disappointment. First of all, the absinthe was missing. The cocktail should have had either a rinse or a dash of absinthe. There was no smell or delicate flavor of absinthe at all. After just a couple of sips, I pushed my cocktail aside.

 

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Second, instead of fresh lemon juice the bartender used some liquid that poured suspiciously out of a white plastic bottle. And that citrus flavor – that wasn’t Cointreau or Triple Sec, plus there wasn’t an orange peel in the glass. Oh no…did they use… store-bought citrus instead of fresh??

I made the mistake of not observing the mixology and methodology before ordering my cocktail, like I would usually do, because I was busy chatting with my friend. But now, I watched the bartender as she used that citrus liquid to prepare other cocktails. When a classic cocktail recipe calls for fresh lemon juice, it must come directly from actual fruit.

My takeaway from this night’s final crawl is, a bar’s choices of liquid refreshment,  combined with its ambient offerings, can definitely affect your state of mind, what drink you order, and your level of enjoyment while sipping it.

 

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However, a bar’s fun theme – sexy cool, edge-y, moody, freaky or quirky – will not make up for a cocktail’s poor execution. Ever. This is especially true if they’re charging a lot of money for it.

Ambience is just the opening act to the real star of the show – the cocktail. Bartenders should learn to create each and every cocktail on their menu to perfection, or be honest and offer an alternative if a special request is beyond their ability or expertise.

When it comes to the art of the cocktail, precision and mindful creativity are key.
Faking it ’til you make it just doesn’t cut it.

 

 


Corpse Reviver #2

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Here’s are recipes for this delicious classic cocktail, courtesy of Saveur.com and Liquor.com. Cheers!

Saveur’s recipe:

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 dash absinthe
Orange peel, for garnish

Shake all ingredients together in an ice-filled cocktail shaker; strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with orange peel.

Liquor’s recipe:

Absinthe rinse
3⁄4 oz Plymouth gin
3⁄4 oz Cointreau
3⁄4 oz Lillet Blanc
3⁄4 oz Lemon juice

Rinse a chilled coupe or Martini glass with absinthe and set aside.

Add the remaining ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice.

Shake, and strain into the prepared glass.

 

The Beautiful and Damned: Intoxication

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Nothing smoothes you out like slipping off your work day, and sliding into a sexy martini. First sip to test, the second to enjoy its perfection. With the third sip, you realize that all the worries of the day that seemed so important at the time, really don’t matter. Especially now. And certainly not in the grand scheme or big picture that is your life.

After that fourth sip, ah yes. The world starts to fall away, and all that is left is sheer bliss…and you.

In his novel, The Beautiful and Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a passage about how that intoxication bliss puts a golden glow, a romantic, softening haze over the sharp edges of everyday reality:

“There was a kindness about intoxication – there was that indescribable gloss and glamour it gave, like the memories of ephemeral and faded evenings.

 

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After a few high-balls there was magic in the tall glowing Arabian night of the Bush Terminal Building – its summit a peak of sheer grandeur, gold and dreaming against the inaccessible sky. And Wall Street, the crass, the banal – again it was the triumph of gold, a gorgeous sentient spectacle; it was where the great kings kept the money for their wars…

 

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…The fruit of youth or of the grape, the transitory magic of the brief passage from darkness to darkness – the old illusion that truth and beauty were in some way entwined.”

 

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All photos and Photoshopped intro image by JE Alexandria Julaton

Gin = Vodka?

Bartender at Birch Street Uptown Lounge

The Bar

It was a late Saturday afternoon when I wandered into the Birch Street Uptown Lounge -a downtown bar I’ve never visited before. It was the kind of classy old-school bar that you’d see in 1930’s movies – secret passage to an exclusive, high-stakes gambling room, and pricey bootleg liquor quickly wheeled in through the basement back door, before the cops bust the joint and pistol-whip everyone in sight.

The kind of bar that celebrates the era when beauty and bliss were conceived in a cocktail shaker, and born in a martini glass.

The Man

I sat at the counter, where I could observe the mixology magic. The bartender was busy shaking up a delicious concoction for some lucky customer. He was a dapper older gentleman in his late 60’s, wearing a white uniform and tie. I looked around to see if Nick Charles was working his way through a line of martinis.

Two-Martinis

The cocktail choices were impressive; the slim, black leather-bound menu showcased several pages of classic cocktails, their ingredients, plus the years and places of their origins. The bartender and I briefly played a game of “name that cocktail”, where he’d start to make a customer’s cocktail and I’d try to guess its name. I also noted the selection of high-end liquor behind the bar, including one of my favorites, The Botanist, a lovely gin from Scotland that tastes like a revelation (22 botanicals!). I still get wistful thinking about my first shot.

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After finishing my refreshing Moscow mule, I decided on my next cocktail, a Prohibition-era cocktail and my absolute favorite, called the Last Word. “Ah yes, the Last Word. Another fine cocktail,” he said approvingly. We chatted about the origins of the Last Word, a gin cocktail, and about the Carthusian monks who created the famous green chartreuse liqueur for medicinal purposes.

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I watched him neatly arrange his tools, pick up the mixing glass with one hand, and swivel backwards to grab a bottle off the shelf.

The Gin Versus Vodka Lesson

I suddenly froze and stared bug-eyed at him. My voice just short of a hysterical scream as I said, in what I thought was a calm voice but was probably more of a panicky shout, “UUUHHHMMM..is that VODKA you’re about to put in there??!”

When he turned to look at me, he had an impish grin on his face, “Just kidding! Wanted to see if you were paying attention. Although, gin IS vodka.”

“Wait…what?”

Gin IS Vodka?

I had to look that up. It seemed unlikely, I thought, since vodka tastes like…well, nothing…and gin has such depth and variety of flavors. But, that bartender was right. One forbes.com article mentioned that vodka, a neutral spirit, is made from “nothing more than unflavored alcohol and water”. Gin starts out as a neutral spirit, then the gin distillers add a number of other botanicals to their recipes, in addition to the requisite juniper berries. Basically, making gin is like flavoring vodka, according to a foodrepublic.com article, “The most usual production method for gin is to distill botanicals…with neutral grain alcohol.”

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However, to know if you’re getting a gin flavored with artificial or natural botanicals, read the label.  A foodandwine.com article explains:

“What all of them have in common is juniper—but gin is also flavored with other so-called botanicals, such as cardamom, orange peel, anise and coriander seed. As long as you have juniper, then pretty much anything goes… If it just says ‘gin’ on the label then the flavors can be artificial. You are basically buying flavored vodka. The next step up is ‘distilled gin,’ where the flavor comes from distilling botanicals, but things like essential oils can still be added afterwards.”

Speaking of flavorings, I personally keep several liqueurs  in my home bar just for mixing with gin, including and especially Green Chartreuse (not shown here, but pictured above in its solo glory). Most of my friends are gin lovers also, so we could chat into the wee hours over fabulous cocktails.

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The Gins

I recently read an article entitled 5 Styles of Gin, which narrowed the types of gin into five categories:

London Dry – Very dry, light-bodied and pungent.

Plymouth – Clean and bracing, made only in Plymouth, England.

Old Tom – Sweet, full-bodied.

Genever – Malt-spirit base, less botanical, good for sipping straight and chilled.

International – Expanded range of botanicals, ideal for inventing new cocktails.

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These days, there are hundreds of brands of gin to choose from, made all over the world – Italian gins, Australian gins, German gins, French gins, and so forth. Another one of my favorite gins is from France, Citadelle (not shown above because I had finished the bottle before this pic was taken). Delicately fragranced and perfect for making another one of my favorite classic cocktails, the Vesper.

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Whichever gin you roll with, you can celebrate World Gin Day  and lift a glass with the rest of us gin-lovers every second Saturday in June.

Cheers!


The Vesper Cocktail

Vesper is a cocktail where vodka and gin play nicely to create this classic beauty.

2 oz gin
1 oz vodka
1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
1/4 oz simple syrup (because the Lillet is a little bitter)

Stir with ice, serve neat. garnish with a lemon zest.