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Monday, September 4, 2017

Broker's Labor


Labor Day used to mean margaritas for me. And indeed I had my fill at Beverly's last night.

The reason I have long associated Labor Day with margaritas is because it's around the first day of the late summer that I can safely harvest a juicy lime from the backyard dwarf Bearss. Many more will come to full fruition between now and Easter, but the first are ripe for clipping now.

But these days, with the cabana undergoing a slow hand remodel, I'm more content with a gimlet–a kind of washed-out classic, tart and barely sweet, such a wonder for Chinese restaurants in the '30's. Broker's is a slightly hot (94 proof, and tastes it), low juniper London dry gin, a fine complement to the first lime of the season. It's not an herb bomb either. Pretty orange bitters make for an inviting watercolor of a drink, and a lime wheel or slice brings more vividness to the wisp of carnation in the color. Remember to give the shaker a shake for every year of age – that way, you can grow old together, handling the heat with just a little more bruised ice each passing year.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Umbrella season

Summer. Time for the best and worst part of it; the blazing days of August. An article from 1999 notes that the cocktail umbrella actually has a function: to shade a drink from the sun.
"What better way to prevent the ice cubes in a poolside mai tai from melting? What better way to keep that blended chi chi refreshingly slushy? Just as a good Panama hat, which is nothing but intelligently woven straw, can make the hottest tropical day seem pleasant, the cocktail umbrella, a little bit of split bamboo and pretty Japanese-print paper, can fight off solar radiation for a time, ensuring that the icy integrity of a good mixologist's creation remains intact. And look: it actually opens and closes like a real umbrella!--a transcendental feat which places the cocktail umbrella beyond the realm of mere appropriate technology (however brilliant) and into the realm of art alongside Frank Lloyd Wright's louvered window panels."
Which may be why they've seemed so kitsch when presented indoors.

By the way, that particular mai tai in the photo is at Kimo's in Maui. If you want to call it the best mai tai in the world, you'd be in good company, as many others have. But I don't lavish lavish praise so lavishly. Nonetheless, I'm going to admit – that's a boat drink and a half.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Tequila Day Quandary

It's National Tequila Day and I am in a Quandary: I am reading a wintry title in the middle of summer.  John Le Carre's first novel, "Call for the Dead," is a vurrrry wintry, replete with coldcockings. There are no tequila drinks in the narrative, and indeed damn little tequila in Old Merry itself in 1961, the year of the novel.  So what to drink whilst parking proximate to The Tree You Can Walk Through in my backyard and parsing this barely-beyond-novella? Settling on a margarita, and here's how I make one: two parts tequila, one part lime, just less than one part Triple Sec or, if you are fussy, Cointreau. And...I shake it all with rocks in a cocktail shaker and pour it into a frosted cocktail glass rather than a tumbler.  I often use kosher salt for the rim, not that you can tell anymore, as there have been a few sips. 

Limes are not as prevalent in this neighborhood as lemons are, but there are neighbors in a pinch.  I have a seedless Beards dwarf, and can neither call it a disappointment or a delight: it produces, after a nearly decade in the ground, a scant seven limes a year.  But I always remain hopeful that one year it will take off.  It has great shape, and that is a consolation.

Friday, July 14, 2017

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.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Palm Beach Special



Bloomsday, and I am an iconoclast on this day, always.  On the 100th anniversary a few years back I staged a reading of you-know-what on my own balcony.  The truth is that I always let Ulysses float through and over my head, gladly--a guy I knew once told me something about Joyce, how he's so obscure that you can't help but love him because you need to study him for years to know him, and who turns on someone you've known and even studied for years--and I rather agree.  Rather, but...I also like Don Gifford's and Robert J. Seidman's Ulysses Annotated--in fact, I may even prefer it to the work itself--it's the work of a lifetime and resplendent with maps of Dublin, and to me it even anticipates wikipedia by about a dozen years.  More than that: the first effort was put "out there" in 1974, and they just kept on working it.  Now, about a Palm Beach Special, which is my Bloomsday cocktail of choice.  This is the perfect prelude to summer drink; not only beautiful but exceptionally tasty, and you only realize that it is over half gin after it's too late.  Here's what you do: get a shaker, put in some rocks, and pour in about half an ounce of sweet vermouth, three-quarters of an ounce of grapefruit juice, and about two or three ounces of gin.  I like to err on the grapefruit juice side--you will calibrate the sweet and sour to your own taste, and when in doubt, consult the Cocktail DB.  No, Joyce didn't drink Palm Beach Specials--which is actually a New York cocktail from the post-prohibition era of exuberance.  But he would have.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Jumper Cable

COME NOW the binge drinkers known as America’s Youth, long on consumption, short on contrition, but ever resourceful and even inventive when called to duty.
Give them a can of Jolt Cola and you know they’re going to do something useful with it.
Consider it done!

The Jumper Cable

1.0 can Jolt Cola Cola
5.0 cubes Ice
1.0 shot Bacardi Rum
Noted: You must use Jolt. That is, if you want it to be a Jumper Cable. Otherwise, you’ll have a Rum and Coke! Maybe even a Cuba Libre!
Depending on whether or not you feel like flirting with sex (6-1), money (10-1), publicity (2-1) or drunkenness (4-1), we recommend flirting with the rum/Jolt ratio. And squeeze some lime in to pretend you’re approaching civility and to honor the Caribbean’s contribution.
Ah youth. Wasted on the young, again! Do remember to drink less, but better.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Four Roses & A Funeral

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon lends some fairly honestly earned folklore to American bourbon, as anything involving Kentucky, decline and dormancy, and a savior Japanese corporation might. The uneven but still engaging history of the brand, redeemed by money and experts, has been presented well elsewhere. The bottom line is that there are a few of us, and admittedly dwindling numbers, who remember the brand from "the bad days of bourbon." And thus we remember it as something different than it has been since 2004: a high-rye special blend slouching towards mellowness without the usual fuss for aging.

drunken soldier in my limes, good with 'em too
The requisite bourbon lore regarding Four Roses is that it was named for a cluster of roses that led to a betrothal. That delights not me. But I had some after a funeral, in fact, and only then was compelled to keep a bottle on the shelf at least as long as I can think of something else that needs to occupy the space. In my own spirits lore compendium, callously unmoved by marketing, I associate bourbons more with the harvest time anyway. Indeed we may also benefit recalling (if we ever knew at all) that when Finnegan finally wakes at his own wake in Finnegans Wake he cries for whiskey. If you want to associate bourbons with weddings, however, go ahead, I'll wait for you to catch up with me.

The throwback shape of the bottle, something deliberately archaic, which hogs both space on your shelf and store shelf space too, originally displeased my wife, who is not fussy for red roses either. I will tell you gentlemen as an aside, and as a newly-trained rose garden docent at The Huntington, that in general it is men who like red roses, or at least who imagine they do, and women who like all roses but red ones. But she has cottoned to it as both sufficiently flavorful and sufficiently mellow and she likes the way it blends with limes this time of year to fashion one of her favorite drinks, the tangy Commodore.

You too have your own taste, so again I'll not bother you too much with mine. I will say, however, in an attempt to persuade, that there is some oddball conventional wisdom afoot that mixing drinks with thirty dollar bourbons is a too dear practice and a bad idea. I think cocktails made with thirty dollar bourbons at their base are a good idea. Four Roses Small Batch is a fine classic cocktail bourbon; I've tried it in everything and it responds well to both citrus and bitters. My own palate finds it a touch too sweet (though it is not very sweet) for a manhattan, but yours may not if you are from the south or a pastry chef. Or if the idea is to find a hint of sweetness somewhere, such as in a barbecue sauce (I know he's using the single barrel but let's not ourselves get carried away), here you have it, then. Also, as a former banker I should advise you that if you are in some jackety straits in which thirty dollars seems too dear a price for bourbon to mix it with lime juice, sweet vermouth, Campari, &c., you very likely should be consuming less bourbon anyway.