Thursday, March 17, 2011

Going to the Dogs: Cocktails in Honor of Westminster

One of my favorite convergences occurs this week: the fantastical worlds of New York Fashion Week and the Westminster Dog Show. Gorgeous Rodarte-clad creatures are stalking Lexington Avenue.

Gorgeous sighthounds, wearing the style of millennia past, are lounging off Seventh.

There is best at the show at Marc Jacobs, and there's Best in Show at Madison Square Garden, and it all calls for a toast. Helping us with our theme, we can turn to The Cocktail Bible: Traditional and Modern Cocktails for Every Occasion by Linda Doeser which contains a whole page on canine-named cocktails.

The Cocktail Bible builds on the Greyhound foundation—vodka and grapefruit juice with a lime wedge. Pictured here, straight up with a salted rim, the drink becomes a Salty Dog, and there are many more variations on the motif.

There is The Great Dane:

2 oz. gin
1 oz. cherry brandy
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
1 tsp. kirsch
Fill cocktail shaker with ice. Pour all ingredients and shake until frost forms on the outside of the shaker. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel.

There are also recipes for the Beagle, the Bloodhound, the Black Dog (no relation to the ubiquitous Black Dog of Martha's Vineyard), and the Mad Dog, which, of course, is every dog in the ring who doesn't end up with that little liver treat.

There are many great recipes for a Westminster party in The Cocktail Bible, but one of my favorite canine drinks can be found in Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz's The Art of the Bar—The Salty Poodle. An adaptation of the Salty Dog, this drink sidles over into welcoming margarita territory.

The Salty Dog

1 oz. silver tequila
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
1/2 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 oz. Cointreau
1/4 Fee Brothers falernum
dash of creme de cassis

Combine all the ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake until frost develops on the outside of the shaker. Strain into a salt-rimmed cocktail glass. Await blue ribbon.

As we celebrate the final announcement of Best in Show, a word about Fee Brothers is in order. A Rochester, New York company, Fee Brothers has a history that would rival the American Kennel Club in breadth and depth. Their bitters selection, especially orange, is an absolute necessity when attempting to slog one's way through all the lovely cocktail books on the market now. The falernum named in the above recipe is a cocktail mixer with Caribbean flavors of lime, ginger, and almond.

As the judge is about to place an overly large ribbon on someone's best friend...Forget the mixed drinks! Open up that bottle of Oban Scotch. Hickory, the beautiful Deerhound, has just won. Take that, all you lapdogs. Sighthounds rule!

Originally published on Blogcritics

Photos: AP

Monday, January 24, 2011

Welcome #Brewtrakr!

When you are on the brilliant side of the Approval Matrix - either highbrow or lowbrow, we'll take either - it's time to celebrate with a beer! Congratulations brewtraker! Great idea and the fact that you're from Buffalo just makes the stout taste even better.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

You Had Me At Aloe

According to Wikipedia, there are at least 299 types of aloe plants.  However, the only type of flowering succulent that interested me was the kind packed in that Trader Joe's can high on the store shelf: aloe vera cozy in its own lightly sweetened juice.

Usually aloe vera is a plant on a kitchen window ledge, ready to be used for careless fingers suffering from a recent collision with a hot skillet. Here, at Trader Joe's, the famous medicinal plant was ready for purchase. Dimly aware of all the "aloe cures what ails you" theories out there and having the usual single-mindedness, this hapless bartender considered the product in only one way - could it be put to good use in a cocktail?!

The first combination tried wasn't an easy one because there was very little whiskey in the jar - the only thing on hand, in the brown spirits family, was a corn whiskey.

I started with a variation on the classic whiskey sour with the above Tuthilltown Corn Whiskey, opting for appearance perhaps rather than performance. Corn whiskey, an unaged spirit, a neonatal Bourbon so to speak, results from a corn mash that doesn't spend any time in the oak cask required for a bourbon. 

Corn whiskey is a strong taste against which the delicate aloe syrup struggled; add more if desired. The taste, well...but it looks great.

With apologies to Todd Rundgren, I give you the Aloe, It's Me:

2 oz. of corn whiskey
1 tbs. of fresh lemon juice
1 tbs. aloe vera syrup (lightly sweetened)
1 tbs. of superfine sugar

Combine in a cocktail shaker with a cup of ice. Shake until a frost forms on the outside. Strain into a sour glass (looks like a small champagne flute) for straight up sour or strain into a double old-fashioned glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a maraschino and lemon wheel of course!

Because of the color and consistency of the aloe vera, both the plant and its juice, it worked very well with vodka, a neutral spirit. I experimented along the lines of the Dirty Martini motif.
With apologies to Jim Morrison, I give you the Aloe, I Love You:
2 1/2 oz. of vodka
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
2 oz. of aloe vera lightly sweetened syrup
Shake (not stirred) with ice in cocktail shaker until frost forms on the outside. Strain into a chilled martini glass.
And here is where the aloe lends itself to a distinctive cocktail in a surprising way.
The consistency of the diced aloe is a bit odd - on the rubbery yet tender side, gelatinous really, brings to mind a jellyfish, but it looks so attractive. On the hors d'oeuvres pick above, the diced aloe looked like little ice cubes in the martini.
One more variation on the Aloe Martini, one actually approaching Cosmo territory, I bring you my favorite of the evening. 
With apologies to Carol Channing, the Aloe Dolly:
2 1/2 oz. vodka
1/2 oz. cointreau
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. aloe vera lightly sweetened syrup
dash of Orange Bitters
The Aloe Dolly had a sophisticated combination that both tasted and served conversation well: "What's in your drink?!" So, with no apologies to Renee Zwelleger or Tom Cruise, and quoting Jerry Maguire again, we weren't trying to make history here, just a little cocktail fun with a medicinal plant. 
First published on

Monday, October 11, 2010

Martha says "Herb" with an "H" and other cocktail news....

Martha Stewart was stuck in the inevitable traffic of Manhattan's United Nations week, but no diplomat was going to keep her from her date with a blender in the Bronx at one of New York City's most glorious kitchens – the New York Botanical Gardens.

On a recent early autumn evening, the Gardens presented an herb class with Martha Stewart as part of its Edible Garden exhibition. The series features a line-up of celebrity chefs.

Martha hosted her own garden this summer at the Gardens with over 50 types of herbs. The event was right on target with what is trendy in mixology right now, as we all knew a Martha Stewart event would be. The days of arcane and precious cocktails have already passed their peak, and now it is the time for simplicity in mixed drinks: going out and picking something special from the late garden and adding it to a spirit.

With a perfect New York blue fall sky in the background, a tent was set up in front of the iconic NYBG Conservatory. Hundreds of Manhattanite Martha fans were dressed in what was supposed to be "This old thing? I just came from the office," but was more suspiciously along the line of "I'm going to see Martha Stewart" Tory Burch.

The two classic cocktails that Martha focused on: a variation on a frozen daiquiri, and the classic mint julep, a drink she confessed she wasn't particularly fond of, but she did adore the silver tumblers.
Cocktails from the Garden with Martha

I call this one "The Martharita." It is like a daquiri or a margarita with a sweet and sour balance.

Moisten the cocktail glass (which looks like a small martini glass) with Lillet Blanc and then place on the rim the salt/sugar combination. Do this early in the day so that the rim dries before cocktail hour.

5 basil leaves (lemon basil is especially good if you have it)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 oz Lillet Blanc
1 oz vodka (or more if you're stuck in UN traffic)
1 tablespoon simple syrup
1 cup ice
Combine all in a blender. Top off with additional vodka if needed. Martha did.

The crowd was enthusiastic. So much so, Martha remarked, that it "sounds like someone has already had a lot to drink back there. Sounds like you've already had your cocktails!" And we had – at the pre-show champagne cocktail reception in her herb garden. Remember, a chamagne cocktail is an easy but impressive drink consisting of a sugar cube at the bottom of a flute, a couple of dashes of Angostura Bitters, and champagne. It makes for a willing audience.

Martha's Mint Julep

I have covered making mint juleps before in this column near Derby time, but this is a recipe from Martha's precise lips. It differs from the recipe from her Living Magazine in that it doesn't require squeezing 26 lemons, but if you don't mind forgoing that pleasure, here goes:

8 mint leaves
1 tsp superfine sugar - raw
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Add 1 cup crushed ice to the tumbler.
Pour 2 oz. bourbon over ice.
Sitr until the outside of the cup is frosted.
Garnish with mint sprig.

I was delighted when Martha gave our local whiskey distillery, Tuthilltown Spirits, a substantial plug. Along with the Maker's Mark, she offered Tuthilltown's beautiful Baby Bourbon as an option in the julep. My own Baby Bourbon is empty so it's time soon for a return trip to New Paltz.

photo by Ben Stechschulte

Lessons to be learned in the Garden: invest in a good blender, and even more important, never use anything other than fresh juice in a cocktail. That can't be stressed enough, but I'll let Martha explain: "Whatever the recipe calls for, if it's a margarita, it has to be fresh lime juice. It doesn't pay to buy any of those mixes. They are expensive. They are full of chemicals and artificial sweeteners. I won't order that kind of drink in a bar unless they are squeezing the limes right there in front of me." Rightly said, but still, can you imagine being that bartender when Martha comes up to the stick and orders a margarita? There might be an unsteady hand over the juicer even if there is no artificial mix in the house.

Originally published on

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Currant Affair

My poor, neglected cocktail blog. Sniff. Since I've been on the jury for the 1st Irish Theatre festival, everything, laundry, cooking, cocktails, everything has been shoved aside for a show and a quick glass of wine at intermission. Two weeks I'll be done. In the meantime, I'm reprinting a column I wrote for the wonderful Lazaro Cooks blog this summer. Check out the site. He whips up pure gold and not just the Yukon puree kind.

The column also made an appearance on the Sweet Southern Prep blog. It's a delightful mix of food and fashion and all in pink and green.

Both sites are very popular with lots of comments. Thank you both for spreading good cheer.

Happy Hour at the Farmer’s Market: A Currant Affair

There are some people whose happy hours are spent at the week-end farmer’s market. And then there are those people whose happiest hours are well past the time the farmers have packed up their goat cheese. The drinking class would do well, however, to rise with the roosters and check out what’s being brought to market for there are infinite possibilities for a summer cocktail at the nearby farmer’s stand. Remember, think globally, drink locally.

A recent trip to a nearby farmer’s market in Bronxville, NY ( a town, farmers take note, that the New York Times reported today, is not suffering from the real estate recession that is affecting the rest of the country) offered lots of inspiration for this article.

To begin with, there’s the ubiquitous cucumbers and fresh basil here in Bronxville as in any Farmer’s Market this time of year. As bartender Adam Schuman, from Brooklyn’s Fatty 'Cue proves, basil and cucumber make for a considerable combination in a cocktail.

The South Sixth:

2 oz. gin (or vodka)

2 cucumber slices (1/16 in. thick)

2 basil leaves

1 oz. cardamom simple syrup

1 oz. lemon juice

1 oz. ginger beer

Muddle cucumber, basil and simple syrup in a pint glass. Add gin and lemon juice. Shake over ice for ten seconds. Double strain into iced highball glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with cucumber wheel. Serve on patio.

When shopping, don’t just buy fresh basil. Buy the plant! Help yourself to the fragrant basil leaves with the South Sixth sense calls you. I bought 2 basil plants for $3 at the market, and you just have to admit, that is a bargain. I placed the plants in my container gardens to ward off my black gardening thumb for just a little while longer.

Mr. Schuman, my hero., also came up with a even more refreshing variation on the cucumber theme: muddling cucumber with the cardamom simple syrup, strain over ice, adding St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, grapefruit juice, sparkling wine and club soda to taste.

Moving beyond the cucumbers, I couldn’t pass by the red currants. Basically because I cannot resist bright, shiny objects.

I was wowed by what looked like thousands of dazzling rubies. I didn’t know anything about the berry at the time but bought some in confidence that I could find something to make with them. They were just too beautiful not to be perfect in some sort of beverage or another.

It turns out that for once my overconfidence paid off - red currants make a wonderful cocktail. Fresh, they are tart like a cranberry, and we all know how important cranberry is in today’s mixology.

Here is a variation of a Red Currant Martini recipe that I found online:

2 oz. gin
2 oz. red currant simple syrup
1 oz. limoncello
1/3 oz. fresh lemon juice
Garnish with red currants.

In a cocktail shaker, muddle 1/4 cup of red currants and lemon juice. Add gin and limoncello and fill with ice. Shake til frost forms on the outside of the shaker. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with red currants.

As you can see, the red currant martini, pictured with some of the spoils of the day, a looks much like a cosmopolitan but falls on the sweeter side of a well-made cosmo. It might do better on the rocks as most summer drinks do.

I was unwilling to stop there because I felt that the above martini, while perfectly presentable, did not do justice to these beautiful berries. So I went exploring further in hopes of having something new to offer here as a guest blogger.

It’s amazing what a deadline (and a good Japanese soft drink) will do.

Drum roll. Unveiling.

A Michael Giacchino swell of music.

I bring you a Currant Affair.

3 oz. vodka
2 oz. red currant simple syrup
Unsweetened grapefruit soda.
Red currants for garnish.

To make a red currant simple syrup, dissolve one cup sugar in one cup water over low flame. When the sugar dissolves, add one cup of red currants. Stir and let cool. Pour into an airtight container and the syrup will last for up to four months.

In the Currant Affair, I used Gokurí Grapefruit Soda, a soft drink from the Japanese Beverage Company, Suntory. Gokurí, while difficult to find if you don’t live near a Japanese grocery, is particularly wonderful in cocktails. It was the true key to this cocktail’s succes: Gokurí has real fruit pulp, and it doesn’t hide the grapefruit tartness with sugar. It’s a very sophisticated beverage, and the same effect could be had with grapefruit juice and some club soda. You don’t want to use an American grapefruit soda like Squirt, as good as Squirt is, because it is too sweet and will pile on and overpower your currants.

Next week-end, take a morning walk through the local farmer’s market to see what’s possible for the evening cocktail. Next time, I’m going back to load up on more red currants. I hear that Martha has a great recipe for a red currant puree, one that goes perfectly with champagne. In the meantime, I have a particularly aromatic bunch of lavender that I will work with; I just know it will enhance some happy hour.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Container Gardens and Container Cocktails: It's Summertime and the living is easy

Being essentially a lazy person, I find that container gardening is the only horticulture for me (cue Dorothy Parker quote here). It's a very small amount of effort for a great deal of validation: riotous color in exchange for some dirt and water. Here I proudly pose my red, white and blue gardening just in time for the 4th of July holiday.

Container cocktails are in the same spirit. A small amount of energy is placed into the right pitcher of drinks, and riotous colorful dialogue blooms among the summer barbecue guests.
On the lookout for some summer holiday entertainment ideas, I found a couple recipes in a recent New York Magazine issue.

Of the four highlighted container cocktails, I found that the simplest were the best, and that works out just perfectly because who has time for a 17-ingredient punch? It's summer. The living is supposed to be easy, and the guests will be here any minute.

Pictured above is the Elder Berry Smash developed by London mixologist Charlotte Voisey for the New York City restaurant Kenmare, a Mediterranean restaurant with an Irish name. The super-sized cocktail was very easy to make and a big hit with the guests who long ago have stopped being polite about the way I experiment on them. They would have told me if they didn't like it, in no uncertain terms.

Elder Berry Smash

1 cup of blackberries
9 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur
Lime juice from 3 whole limes
8 oz. Champagne or a sparkling wine
6 sprigs of mint

Muddle blackberries in the bottom of a pitcher. Add St. Germain and lime juice, followed by crushed ice, leaving room for the champagne. Top with Champagne, garnish with mint sprigs. Stir just before pouring and serve in fluted glasses. Serves 6.

The other popular recipe was deemed the Farmer's Friend, but it was really a mojito with a surprise variation - rhubarb. While checking out at the supermarket, the cashier asked me what rhubarb tasted like: "is it like celery?" No. Most definitely not, I responded. People make pies out this - with a lot of sugar! I told her about my beverage plans, and she was enthused. With good reason. The drink was a success. I'd say that the party was split 50-50. Half of the imbibers liked the Smash, the other half liked the Farmer's Friend. All love a good muddle apparently.

The Farmer’s Friend
By Ron Levine, Anfora

2 handfuls of mint leaves, torn
2 cups rhubarb (about 4 stalks), sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
16 oz. white rum
8 oz. simple syrup
4 oz. fresh lime juice
Club soda (approximately 6 oz.)
Muddle mint leaves with rhubarb at the bottom of the pitcher. Add ice, and pour rum, simple syrup, and lime juice over mixture. Stir, and top with club soda. Pour in rocks glasses. Serves 8.

Container gardening is perfect gardening for cocktail hour. A plant here and there, a sip and a sit, and an admiring gaze toward all that hard work.

You don't want any operation of heavy equipment while mixing up pitchers of white sangria for your guests. This version calls for the addition of vodka, a good segue way toward "the Russian spy that lives next door" as a party conversation.

A Vodka Sangria, pictured below, from The Bar:

1 bottle of a dry white wine
6 oz. Vodka
3 oz. Grand Marnier
3 oz. pomegranate juice
3 oz. orange juice
2 oz. white grape juice
3 oz. lemon juice
2 oz. simple syrup
4 raspberries

Simply mix all liquid ingredients in a pitcher and garnish with raspberries and lemon wheels. Couldn't be any more effortless and that's perfect for a hot summer's happy hour. Happy Fourth!

Originally published on

Monday, July 5, 2010

It's No Sin If There's Gin

Now that we've moved beyond sweater weather and into summer (although here in the Northeast we hardly had what might be called a traditional spring—45 to 90—in Porsche-like acceleration), a Hendrick's Gin martini with a cucumber twist, like the one pictured below from the charming Red Hat Bistro, certainly makes a great warm weather drink.

The beautiful restaurant, housed in what was the factory boiler room of the Lord and Burnham Company, 19th-century manufacturers of greenhouses, is perfectly summer-situated on the Hudson River in Irvington, New York.

That was then:

This is now:

Now doesn't that renovation deserve a toast?

Although a gin martini hardly needs a tweak, being perfection unto itself, lately I've been finding variations (that don't include chocolate, thank you very much) that are intriguing. One of my favorite is the addition of cardamom.

In the ginger family, typically a cold-weather spice, cardamom, an old world flavor, makes a new world cocktail.

There are two types of cardamom, green and black. You are more likely to find green and can certainly use it to make the two recipes discussed here. If you come across the black, try that too. It was a slightly different flavor, more minty for lack of a better term, and certainly appropriate for a summer beverage.

The best way to use cardamom in a cocktail is through an infused simple syrup which we've made before here in The Speakeasy, but now we are going to up the ante. We will "pile on" and make a rich simple syrup which is exactly how it sounds. Whereas simple syrup is one part sugar dissolved in one part water, rich simple syrup is two parts sugar to one part water. Simple and sweet.

When making a cardamom simple syrup, boil one cup of water and 1/4 cup of cardamom seeds (not powder), and dissolve two cups of sugar in the water. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain to remove the seeds.

My first introduction to gin with that touch of cardamom was at the Tribeca Grand Lounge. Their Gin and Sin is a misnomer of a cocktail because there is no sin when there's gin.
Here is a close approximation to the Tribeca's Gin and Sin:

2 oz. gin
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. cardamom simple syrup
1 oz. blood orange juice

The more common navel orange will do almost as well, but always remember to use fresh squeezed fruit juice, whether lemon or orange, in your drinks.

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake 'til a frost forms on the outside. Pour over a cocktail glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange wheel. Very easy and very summery. This is a cocktail you can make by the pitcher for entertaining. Feel free to change the name for the family picnic.

Another, more elaborate and even more flavorful, cardamom cocktail (oh, the alliteration!) is the South Sixth, an Adam Schuman creation, found at Fatty 'Cue, his Brooklyn restaurant. The drink was featured in a recent New York Times slideshow. South Sixth:

2 oz. gin (or vodka)
2 cucumber slices (1/16 in. thick)
2 basil leaves
1 oz. cardamom simple syrup
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. ginger beer
Muddle cucumber, basil and simple syrup in a pint glass.

Add gin and lemon juice. Shake over ice for ten seconds. Double strain into iced highball glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with cucumber wheel. Serve on patio.

This is another cocktail that benefits from sitting around on ice. Make a pitcherful for your guests. There is a lot of herbaceous flavor going on here between the cucumber and the basil. It's as if you wandered into the neighbor's garden. There are gardens in Brooklyn, you know.