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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Famiglia Negroni

I shall presume if you have arrived here in search of meaning or ideas or because you found the New York Times too facile that you already know how to mix a Negroni, the fabled gin with Campari with sweet vermouth drink. You likely stir it (mandatory) and serve it on rocks (usual) in a tumbler or old fashioned glass (prudent).

Drago Centro in DTLA has a Novac Negroni, the first word a portmanteau (No Vacancy) name of a fictitious town in the game Fallout New Vegas. $13 (the drink, not the game). The Negroni variant includes Aperol and a dash of Grand Poppy; it may seem counterintuitive to add Aperol to a Campari drink, but the end result indeed works. The gin they use is the fervently boquetcious St. George Terroir, so this is California, all right; the vermouth is the silky Carpano Antica. They serve it over and around one of those extra large ice cubes. If you haven't had a drink mixed Camparo Antica, you may not know what's possible in sweet vermouth.

Up the boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, The Black Cat in Silver Lake serves a Boulevardier, the Negroni family drink that swaps bourbon, in this case High West Double Rye, for gin, also with the lush Carpano Antica. $13. I've written of The Black Cat in another context; a gay rights riot involving the place preceded Stonewall by over two years. The place acknowledges the legacy without making it an insistent cultural tourist selling point; it remains comfortable, clubby, local.

I also spotted a large bottle of Carpano Antica, which comes in a smaller bottle and also a one liter size, in a refrigerated unit behind the bar at Hyperion Public, a halfway-to-sports bar within walking distance of me on Hyperion in Silver Lake that at first confused me as to whether or not it was a neighborhood bar but I have since determined it is. The space has good simpatico with The Black Cat as it used to be a gay piano bar, LA's oldest at the time of the conversion. I didn't ask what they used the Carpano for, and no drinks on the drink card call it out, but I did ask why they refrigerated it; the alert bartender told me that because it's sweet vermouth; in her opinion, if you don't use it quickly it may turn taste after a time. "At home, you can use the smaller bottle and cork it with a rubber stopper and pump it if you like," she said. And I buy that; as soon as I got home, I took the cork off of my home bar bottle and put on a rubber stopper top and pumped out as much of the air as I could.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Mimosas formidable.

Plus formidable.

Some years ago, I reminded you about the virtues of french 75's in a new year. This new year, the topic is mimosas.

But before I get to mimosas, I'll tell you: french 75's made our past year---our past year, which was awful---a little happier.

So now the mimosa, a far gentler subject for the usual post new year's surfeit of champagne.

There are two basic recipes, and one is far more basic than the other:

The one you've probably already had:
1 1/4 oz orange juice (3.5 cl, 5/16 gills)
Fill with Champagne, ice
Serve in a cocktail glass (4.5 oz)
The one you're about to try:
1/2 ounce triple sec (1.5 cl, 1/8 gills)
1 1/2 ounces fresh orange juice (4.5 cl, 3/8 gills)
3 1/2 ounces chilled Champagne (10.5 cl, 7/8 gills)
1 orange slice for garnish (1/2 oz, 1.5 cl, 1/8 gills)
Build in the order given in a Champagne flute. Add the garnish.
Serve in a champagne flute (6.0 oz)
Yes. Triple sec. Surprised? That recipe is from Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology, a book which is more about process and theory than recipe. Gary Regan is certainly accomplished, and also is a bit of an Internet-as-cottage-industry phenomenon. But so is About.com, and take a look at this awful recipe for the same drink; or maybe you too measure orange juice by the carton. So let's put it to the fire: does Gary know something so many others don't? Why would you add triple sec to something like orange juice, which is so sweet to start? (BTW, Rachel wants you to add triple sec too, but at the end, rather than at the beginning---I guess she wants you to light fire to it too, or something.)

Give up? Well, I'll tell you. It's about alcohol.

Adding triple sec is like infusing what would otherwise be a very fluffy Mother's Day drink with something more formidable. You're bumping your mimosa to actual cocktail level.

Triple sec is made from oranges, so it doesn't rustle your orange juice's feathers, and shouldn't overlay your natural oj sweetness too much---especially if it's high-proof triple sec. Triple sec runs up to 60 proof, and you shouldn't waste time with much less than that. If you're going to put it in a mimosa, putting something that's about 30 proof is not really adding much of anything.

It seems intuitive, and likely need not be said, to not use your favorite champagne for a mimosa. If you're drinking your favorite champagne, drink your favorite champagne---don't sugar coat it. Of course. You're insulted I even mentioned anything. Well, it must be said. It must be said because there are sites that say, "a bottle of favorite champagne" and where orange juice from a carton suffices. I will be very goodly god-damned if I am going to slop a bottle of Bollinger Grand Année into any kind of juice, let alone juice from a carton. In fact, I don't think I've had orange juice from a carton in the new millennium. Or maybe since the Ford administration.

You need a tasty champagne, to be sure, but you can do with an easily acquired one. Prosecco is popular right now and prosecco is excellent for mimosas, in my opinion.

As for glassware---you know, it's really shouldn't be fetishized for this particular drink. You're not going to be noting the size of the bubbles. I like even serving them in tumblers, as demonstrated above, for the guests get more at a time.

Rocks with champagne? If you're using a tumbler, why not? You put champagne in punch, don't you? And what is a cocktail, if not a punch for one?

The mimosa is one rare drink that you can enlarge a bit with considerable impunity. But if you must, the champagne flute makes for handsome presentation. The only problem is, with the flute, you'll be refilling them every seven minutes. Me, I'd look for some good Italian tumblers and clink.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Commodore

Whenever Indian summer comes (we’ve had a nonstop one in LA this year), you might be thinking of shifting gears a bit, prepping for the richer late-autumn drinks but not quite there. When it’s 79 and clear as the country, a manhattan may feel a little too heavy, even though the calendar says it’s fall.
The limes of late summer are turning yellow, but don’t toss them into the compost pile. They’re perfect now for a Commodore.

Never had a Commodore?

Over at Doc’s Cocktail db, the preferred recipe is:
4/5 rye whisky (2 1/2 oz, 7 cl, 5/8 gills)
1/5 fresh lime juice (1/2 oz, 2 cl, 1/8 gills)
2 dashes orange bitters per cocktail
sugar to taste
Bourbon is OK too. Basically 4 parts whiskey to one part lime, orange bitters and sugar to taste. Tangy!

Here’s a recipe for a more esoteric Commodore, not quite a parasol drink but a little fruitier: the Commodore No. 1.
1 1/2 oz blended whiskey
1/2 oz strawberry liqueur
1/2 oz lime juice
2 oz orange juice
dash orange bitters
No instructions; we figure if you’re at this site you already know how to mix these.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Creak of the Old Wood

Are you going somewhere, or just going?

Have a go at Tiki Oasis 14 in San Diego 8/14. This year: an inquiry into the Beats' relationship to Tiki. Sort of. Sort it out yourselves.

“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was - I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn't scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.”

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Team USA in LA

Noted: LA's Seven Grand makes listicle of USA's top bourbon bars.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

After Hell: Fernet-Branca and coffee

This is one of the easiest drinks of all; you drink it at that time in later (but not late) spring when it is 2:30 p.m. and you are about to nap but still would like to do some work and you are not of the energy drink cult.  It works best if you have an espresso machine at home.  You make a short Americano--but before you do pour a shot of Fernet-Branca into your favorite coffee cup.  (It will sip better if you don't put it into a mug, and you need a little more room than a demi-tasse affords).  Make the espresso on top of the Fernet-Branca and add shot of scalding water.  That is all.  Now go to the backyard and read any translation of the Purgatorio--this one is the Hollanders' translation, which has copious notes, which I am looking for these days, as my own present writing project involves the Divina Commedia.  I was ready to fall asleep but now I am ready to work.  Of course, there is some considerable simpatico here for yours truly, as Fernet-Branca was first made in Milan the same year my own family emigrated to the United States, and my last name is German for "one from Milano."  Similarly, there is always a connection between myself and the Purgatorio, because I believe this earth is one, and anyway, it is my favorite of the three books of Dante. About as long to prepare as your N/espresso takes to make.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Byejoe Westerby

What's all this, then? The drink in the photo comes to me by way of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club, of which I am an honorary member, and a fortuitous bottle of Byejoe Red, and a marriage to an Italian woman sensible about culinary matters. I'll bet it looks unlike any drink you've had to-date. Well, that's what I'm here for, in part. Perhaps in large part.

I may recall for you how Jerry Westerby, the de facto hero of Le Carre's The Honorable Schoolboy, ditches his insane Italian wife at the beginning of that chronicle; I may recall for you how like Westerby è sua donna I too live on the wrong side of a hill.  But let's take it one step at a time...

°  °  °  °  °

Byejoe is a recent addition to the American spirits cornucopia, distributed by the usual evil agents in Texas. It is a western version and phonetic spelling of the world's best selling spirit, baijiu, about which you know next to nothing beyond what I'm about to tell you.

Baijiu in its Asian state presents a problem to the American palette. Americans like their stronger spirits to complement almost nothing at all, although a steak and a martini do make for a good rubric, but the Chinese and other Asians mostly take baijiu with their sauce-driven savory cuisine. Baijiu is also made from sorghum, a grain not celebrated in America, as it produces a foggy taste that I would describe as "musty" though many have been even less kind.

I first had genuine baijiu (and for what it's worth, I do consider Byejoe genuine baijiu as well) about fifteen years ago, at a wedding between two Chinese Americans (who both, magnificently, had the same last name) in Monterey Park. It struck me as a good complement to the fish cheeks and onion bread and hundreds of other items at the dinner, but even then I was wondering how it might make an American cocktail if called upon.

A bottle of the stuff arrived mirable dictu about a week ago and I sliced it open immediately on arrival. Further informed by fifteen years of mixology, and having prepped myself with a reading list of Byejoe cocktails, I couldn't wait to begin experimenting.

°  °  °  °  °

Ah, here were challenges. Some new recipes, bent to the not overly fussy but anxious to be immediately gratified American taste, were sweet; and Byejoe itself comes unmolested but also comes in a stripe with infused lychee and pomegranate too.  Those two fruits coming together approximate the taste of strawberries, so the brand itself is also thinking that this might give them an extra wading pool entry into the American market.

I didn't see a need for the infused version, but I'm glad to have it. I felt the Byejoe infusion (called Dragon) may mix well with lime for those who are unembarrassed to drink a strawberry margarita, but really, the stand-alone Dragon is enough sweetness in a glass to abide any of my own cravings. (For fun, a Southerner might like to try it mixed with Southern Comfort to make a Dragon Frappe).

But I was more taken by my bottle of unadulterated Red. I tried lemon with it, which was an acceptable mixer but still left the leafy must musty. Ultimately, thinking about how natural baijiu complements Chinese cuisine, which is barely sweet when it is sweet but mostly savory and especially saucy, I abandoned citrus entirely and moved to those American hors d'oeuvres that can double as garnish.  My broader thought was that food should be on hand for the Red; the Dragon drinks well enough alone, or as a prelude.

The best that worked for me was a marinated artichoke heart from a jar; oil and vinegar and spices making it dirty. That made for a drink I looked forward to coming home to, even on the wrong side of the hill. Call it the Westerby after the soldierly hero of The Honorable Schoolboy; he is certainly a man who knows pickled artichokes from his ill-starred Italian tryst. Simply drop one into your drink--and the drink doesn't even need to be chilled--with a spoon rather than a fork, so you can include some of the pickling juice too; that's the way Westerby would do it I'm sure.

Byejoe will also work superbly as a complement to blue cheese, and one of those blue-cheese stuffed olives would make a wonderful mess of a Byejoe cocktail too.