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Mamie Taylor – Refreshing as a Scottish Day

Posted by Reese On November - 13 - 2010

Imagine a perfect day in Scotland.  The mist is clearing off the rolling green hills, the sun is breaking through the clouds, it’s going to be a fantastic day.  You spend the day fishing, or shopping, or golfing, or whatever floats your boat.  Come middle of the afternoon it’s warm and you’re ready for a refreshing cocktail to start your evening off right.  Would said cocktail include Scotch, ginger beer and lime?  No?  Well, might I suggest that it should.  The reason I say this is easy, the Mamie Taylor, which I’ve taken my sweet time testing, is refreshing and delicious.

Mamie Taylor

But, it’s more than that.  It’s a combination of flavors that I wouldn’t have ever thought would go well together.  However, in this mix, they’re really harmonious and play off each other very well.  Let’s start our discussion with the spirit in this cocktail.  Scotch is an interesting beast when it comes time to mix up a cocktail.  There are so many options, each with it’s own nuances and particularities, which is why it makes sense to reach for a blend in most cocktail cases.  With a blend you’re going to get, obviously, a blend of the flavors that make up the range of Scotch offerings.  For me I reached for Johnnie Walker Black Label.  It had the character I was looking for and the flavor worked really well in this drink.  I tried Famous Grouse as well, but wasn’t as impressed.

There was something nagging on my mind though as I sipped my Mamie Taylor with Black Label.  I wished it had just a touch of smoke.  Simple enough I thought, I’ll make my next one with Ardmore and that should fix the problem.  Not so.  The resulting cocktail wasn’t undrinkable, but I jotted down in my notes one word that sums it up nicely.  The drink was “funky.”  Back to the drawing board and finally it came to me.  I pulled down my bottle of Laphroaig Cask Strength and added 1/4 oz to the mix, making up the rest of the 2 oz with Black Label.  It was one of those light bulb moments.  The subtle smoke I was hoping for was there, but not overpowering or off-putting.

Now I moved on to the ginger beer.  I tried a few different options and found that they are all pretty tasty.  This week I’ve primarily been using Gosling’s ginger beer and found that it’s strong ginger punch was the other key to this drink.  I’d say you can definitely go with either a ginger ale or ginger beer, but make certain that it’s got a good ginger component.  Regular soft-drink style ginger ale isn’t the right choice here.  It’ll be smothered by the Scotch.

As for lime juice I have two comments.  One, and I hope I don’t have to tell you this, use fresh.  Two, I bumped it up to 1 oz to add more sourness.  If you’ve made your own ginger beer from the recipe I tried then this won’t be necessary as you’ll have a bit more sourness going in.

Last but not least, I was just reading an article about bitters in a recent issue of Imbibe Magazine.  It was penned by cocktail master Paul Clarke and he mentioned something I would never have thought of (seems I need to do some more thinking about cocktails).  Per Paul, orange bitters work really well with the flavors of Scotch.  So, wanting to test that theory, I tossed a couple dashes in my last Mamie Taylor (the one I’m sipping right now, in fact).  And, I can tell you Mr. Clarke is absolutely right.  The flavor of the bitters plays extremely well with the scotch, ginger and lime and the bitterness further rounds out the balance of the cocktail.  Definitely a worthy addition.

Mamie Taylor (Cocktail Hacker)
1 3/4 oz Johnnie Walker Black Label
1/4 oz Laphroaig Cask Strength
1 oz Lime Juice
6 oz Ginger Beer
2 Dashes Orange Bitters
1) Combine the Scotch, lime juice and bittes over ice
2) Fill with ginger ale
3) Garnish with a lime wedge

With that I’ll come to an end.  Sadly, I’m guessing that, like me, it’s not summer in Scotland for you.  But there’s good news.  You can still mix up a Mamie Taylor and enjoy a refreshing, delicious cocktail.  Cold, fall weather be damned.  Enjoy, my friends.

Milk Punch – Fallesque

Posted by Reese On October - 23 - 2010

I’ve been drinking a lot of Milk Punch these last couple weeks, as has nearly anyone that came over.  Fall is in the air here and the flavors in this drink fit very nicely into my current state of mind.  There is the warmth and sweetness from the rum and brandy.  There is the warm spice note from the nutmeg.  Then there is the warm and subtle, yet complex flavors from the vanilla.  You seeing the same pattern here that I did?  It’s all so warming on a chilled fall day.  Perfect.

Milk Punch

As I promised in my intro post I went in search of older recipes and found a few in the books on my shelves.  However, I didn’t bother to mix any of them up.  The reason being, they’re really not that much different.  As Dr. Cocktail points out in his recipe, the only real difference is the addition of the vanilla extract.  And, while I wouldn’t say the vanilla is essential it really adds a layer of complexity that I think you would wish were there were it omitted.

My other suggestions and tweaks are really very simple but key.  First, I bumped up the simple syrup a bit because I like this drink a touch sweeter; more on the level of eggnog.  However, as with any cocktail that’s something you should experiment with to find your happy balance.  Second, use fresh grated nutmeg.  I really can’t emphasize this one enough.  The nuts keep for about a thousand years in their whole form and the flavor of fresh grated simply can’t be matched by something pre-grated.  Heck, if you really don’t want to go buy some of your own, come over here, I’ll give you a couple.  I have tons.  It’s really that important.  Third, use brandy and that you would be willing to drink on their own.  I think this should go without saying, but I wanted to include it here to drive home a point.  I feel cocktail making is like cooking with wine.  In cooking you never use a wine you wouldn’t drink on it’s own.  Same goes for cocktail making.  That’s certainly not to say that you should use the best stuff you have on the shelf, but please don’t use crap ingredients.  It really shows in the final product.  Ok, enough ranting.  You’ve got the idea.

Lastly, a tip.  If you’re wondering how exactly one measures two dashes of vanilla extract or any other ingredient that doesn’t have a dasher here’s what I do.  I use a cocktail straw.  Dip it into the liquid, get as much as you want, cap the end with you finger, drop it into your shaker.  For this drink I used two straw loads approximately 1/3 full each time.  That gave me the vanilla level I like.

Milk Punch (Cocktail Hacker)
1 oz Brandy
1/2 oz Dark Rum
1/2 oz Simple Syrup
2 dashes Vanilla Extract
4 oz Whole Milk
1) Combine in a shaker with ice
2) Shake and strain into a shaved ice filled glass
3) Top with nutmeg

So, here’s what I suggest.  If you’re in the northern hemisphere* and fall is closing it’s chilly hands around you, whip up a milk punch some evening.  It’s warming and I bet you won’t have just one.

*Supposing you’re not in the northern hemisphere, or you’re reading about this recipe when it’s hot out, consider this idea.  Brunch.  Enough said.

Tequila Sunrise – Mildly Uninspiring

Posted by Reese On October - 9 - 2010

As a cocktail writer, some of these wrap up posts are much easier than other.  Sometimes I’m very excited to pass on what I’ve learned over the course of my experiments and other times I need a swift kick in the ass to get it all down.  Sadly the Tequila Sunrise falls under the latter category.  I love good orange juice.  I love good tequila.  I don’t love this cocktail.  It’s kinda boring in the same way that Screwdrivers are boring.  Sure, they’re not bad.  In fact, they’re pretty good.  Problem is, I’ve had the best and now, okay isn’t good enough.

Tequila Sunrise

I’m not just going to whine about this cocktail for the whole post.  As I said, it’s really not all that bad.  If you’re interested in a refreshing tequila drink and you’re bored with the Paloma, here are some tips for making a decent Tequila Sunrise.  First, unless your orange juice has a good bit of sourness you’re going to a want a squeeze of lime with this one.  Second, much like a Gin and Tonic this drink is all about the ratio.  Specifically, it’s all about the ratio you like.  Want it more intense, use less orange juice, more mellow, use more.  I think you get the idea.  Third, add your grenadine last, even after you have all the ice in the glass.  Then give it a very gentle stir.  This will help the grenadine mix just a touch and give your drink a gorgeous color gradient.  Fourth, use a tequila that you like.  For me I go with a nice plata tequila, like the Olmeca Altos I reviewed earlier in the week.  However, if you like a mellower agave flavor then a reposado is what you want.  Lastly, please, please, please use good grenadine.  Don’t buy colored sugar water.  If you really want something good, make up a batch of Hibiscus Grenadine and be very happy.

So, there you go.  It’s tasty, but not a recipe that I’m going to find myself craving.  Onward, friends, onward.

The Bebbo: A Cocktail Even a Bee Could Love

Posted by Reese On September - 25 - 2010

Well, friends, this post marks the end of my first weeks back and they’ve been fantastic.  Mixing up drinks, participating in MxMo, reviewing spirits, ah, it’s good to be back.  So, what of the Bebbo?  Allow me to say first that it was a fantastic drink to come back with.  The mix of gin, citrus and honey is truly divine.  Not overly sweet, a nice burst of sour from the lemon juice and a smooth sweetness from the honey.

Bebbo Cocktail

Seems a good segue to the first experiment I wanted to conduct with this drink.  Specifically, does the variety of honey play a role in the final flavor?  As you may or may not be aware, the flavor of honey changes based on what the bees fed on primarily.  So, for example, around here we have clover honey and wild flower honey primarily.  In other locales you’ll find varieties such as sage, orange blossom, tupelo, buckwheat, heather, etc.  While my selection of honey certainly wasn’t vast I found that the variety of honey used in this drink didn’t have much affect on the end flavor.  This is due to the honey only comprising a small percentage of the final cocktail and the gin being floral by itself.  A couple tips regarding the honey.  One, make sure to heat it up a bit in the microwave.  I found about 20-30 seconds to be perfect.  That way the honey flows better and doesn’t get all stuck in your jigger.  Two, make sure you give the drink a good solid 30 seconds of shaking.  That will make sure the honey is completely dissolved.

Which brings us along to the gin.  As with many gin cocktails the question I first asked was what gin should I use for this drink?  Should I go juniper forward, maybe citrus forward, something bold, something light?  Given the bold flavor of the citrus and honey I knew a light gin like Sapphire would get mostly lost, so I turned to something bolder and juniper forward, my old pal Tanqueray.  This gin is definitely my preference for this cocktail.  That said, you can certainly use anything you like or have on hand.  The citrus really dominates the flavor profile anyway.

Finally, I mentioned in my intro for this drink that I wanted to experiment with vodka instead of gin to see what the real difference was.  I’ll make the summary quick, the difference was huge.  The vodka Bebbo was still very good.  In fact, I’d happily drink one were it served to me.  However, it lacked the subtle complexity that gin brings to the party.  Without this complexity the drink was a bit one noted.  My recommendation is this.  If you’ve sworn over and over you don’t like gin, try a light gin to start.  Sapphire and Plymouth are both great options.  Once you’ve built a taste for gin (hopefully) you can move on to bolder options.

So, there you have it.  While summer is still in the air and you can still enjoy a meal outside I’d say mix up a light, fruity drink like the Bebbo and soak in the out of doors.  Enjoy!

Honeymoon Cocktail – An Apple A Day

Posted by Reese On May - 1 - 2010

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.  Or so the saying goes.  So what does the distilled essence of a bushel-load of apples get you?  A damn fine cocktail and, near as I can discern, immortality.  The Honeymoon Cocktail is another drink where the fresh apple flavor of the calvados really makes the drink pop.  To make sure it really was the fruitiness of the calvados at work I mixed up a version using applejack instead.  And while it was still a good drink to be sure, it wasn’t nearly as interesting.  The apple flavor of the calvados is much stronger and much brighter than what you find in applejack and really makes the flavor profile of this drink much more complex.

Honeymoon Cocktail

I really can’t make any major suggestions this week for changing up the recipe.  In fact, I only have one.  The version from Vintage Cocktails and Forgotten Spirits was a bit off balance toward the sweet end of the spectrum.  The fix was uber simple though.  I bumped the lemon juice up to 3/4 oz and all was right with the world again.

Honeymoon Cocktail (Cocktail Hacker)
2 oz Calvados
1/2 oz Benedictine
1/2 oz Orange Curacao
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
1) Combine ingredients in a shaker over ice
2) Shake until combined and well chilled
3) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass

So, while I can’t suggest huge changes to the recipe, I can add a couple quick comments about the other ingredients.  First, to get it out of the way, I’m going to remind you to always use fresh lemon juice.  I know you don’t need the reminder, but it never hurts to refresh the fundamentals.  Second, the Benedictine.  Like ingredients in so many other cocktails you’re not going to be able to pick it out if you didn’t know it was there.  But, and it’s a big but, you will definitely notice it if it’s gone.  Third, and last, the curacao.  If you don’t have curacao I’m going to give you permission to use a triple sec instead.  Sure, you’re going to lose a bit of the flavor of the brandy base, but at 1/2 oz it’s really not going to be a huge loss.  Not to mention you’re using tasty calvados which is also oak aged.  So, like brandy, you’ll get those woody notes coming through as well.

So, there you have it.  Now it’s time for a quick summary to send you on your way.  The Honeymoon Cocktail is the second in a recent batch of seriously delicious calvados cocktails.  If you don’t have a bottle in your liquor cabinet I think it’s time you change that.  You can thank me later.

Note: Your immortality results may vary.  If at first you don’t feel them, have another drink.