Tag Archives: shaker

A Good Old-Fashioned Controversy

Today’s post starts with a bit of cocktail history, as in my personal history with cocktails. I first started training to be a bartender when I was 19. I was hostessing at an old-school, Italian family owned seafood joint on the pier in Santa Cruz my sophomore year of college. The hostess stand was right next to the bar, so I ended up talking to the bartenders a lot. There was a bartender named Dave, who was the embodiment of the quintessential bartender: early 50’s, handsome yet a little grizzled, comforting and ready to listen, but didn’t take guff from anyone, could tell you the history of every drink he made while giving you solid life advice. At some point I realized that I wanted to be him when I grew up, and became obsessed with the idea of becoming a bartender. Since I wasn’t 21, technically I wasn’t allowed behind the bar, but Dave decided to take me under his wing. He gave me a couple of books to study at home, and started quizzing me every time an order came in. “What goes in a Singapore Sling, Sarah?” “What kind of garnish do you put on a Mai Tai?” “What’s the difference between a gimlet and a gibson?” He also gave me sage advice about love and encouraged my artistic pursuits. He was pretty much my favorite person at the time.

Fast forward a few years, and with a little fast talking and fudging of my resume, I landed a job bartending at a nightclub. The money was great, but the hours were terrible, and “bartending” really meant pouring beers, shots, and the occasional rum-and-coke. All I wanted in life was to mix fancy shaker drinks. I left that job to wait tables at a high-end restaurant, and after a few months I finally convinced the manager to let me behind the bar. This was the late 90s, the height of Sex and the City fame, so most of what I was making was specialty martinis: Cosmos, Manhattans, 007s, Appletinis. I became very adept with a cocktail shaker. One day, a gentleman came in to the bar and ordered an old-fashioned. I remembered seeing it in the bartender’s guide, but I had never actually made one. Luckily, I was working with another bartender that night, a veteran, but even she shot me a look like “Who orders an old-fashioned anyway?” This is how she made it: Put an orange slice, a maraschino cherry, a sugar cube (or one sugar packet) in a rocks glass, add 7 dashes of bitters, muddle all that together, add ice, and pour 2 oz bourbon over it.

And that’s the way I always made them. Granted, my last professional bartending gig was in 2004, pre-Mad Men, so I can count on one hand the number of old-fashioned cocktails I made in that time, but for some reason the recipe always stuck with me. Then along comes Don Draper and the resurgence of the “craft cocktail,” and suddenly every high-end bar has an old-fashioned on their specialty menu. And you know what? It turns out I’d been making them wrong all these years. Well not wrong, so much as the nouveau bastardized way, rather than the purist way. Apparently, the old-fashioned is somewhat of a controversial cocktail, especially amongst hipster bartenders and curmudgeonly old men who still wax poetic about the days when bread was 10 cents. In their eyes, a real old-fashioned is just sugar, bitters, and bourbon, and maybe an orange or lemon peel for garnish. The orange slice and cherry got added in sometime in the 70s/80s, when things started going from “less is more” to “more is more.” There’s an interesting Slate article written about the controversy, with some great recipes as well.

This old fashioned is so pure, they won't even let the orange peel touch the bourbon.

This old-fashioned is so pure, they won’t even let the orange peel touch the bourbon.

Maybe it’s because we’re a bourbon household, or maybe it’s because we watch a lot of Mad Men, but the old-fashioned makes a pretty regular appearance around here. Being a big fan of both experimentation and personalization, I’ve come up with my own old-fashioned recipe, and I’d encourage you to do the same. Here’s mine if you want to try it:

1 slice citrus (orange will make it sweeter, lemon will make it more tart, grapefruit and blood orange are fun too!)

1 sugar cube, sugar packet, or the equivalent amount of white sugar

7 dashes bitters

a few dashes of grenadine syrup (hard to measure, so I just use the cap)

1 1/2-2oz bourbon, depending on how strong you like it (use good bourbon…no cheap stuff!)

Those rocks glasses were a favor from a friend's wedding last year. Adorable and functional!

Those rocks glasses were a favor from a friend’s wedding last year. Adorable and functional!

Muddle the citrus, sugar, bitters, and grenadine in a rocks glass. You can use a wooden spoon if you don’t have a muddler, but really, you should just get a muddler right? Add ice. I highly recommend getting an ice tray that makes those huge cocktail ice cubes. We got ours at Crate and Barrel. Pour bourbon over ice and stir with a spoon. I usually take out the citrus peel, but some people like to leave it in. Simply delicious. Happy mixing!

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Earl Grey Tea Vodka

Adding further evidence to my making-fancy-flavor-infused-booze-is-the-easiest-thing-ever theory, I experimented awhile back with infusing vodka with Earl Grey tea in an attempt to re-create a cocktail I had at the Bourgeois Pig in New York called the “Cold Toddy.” The name still doesn’t make sense to me, because Hot Toddies usually have bourbon or whiskey in them, not tea or vodka. In any case, it must have been seasonal, because it’s not on the menu anymore, but you should still definitely go there if you are in New York and want an amazing cocktail.

Right, back to the infusion. Here is how it works: take a 750mL bottle of vodka, pour it into a mason jar (wider mouth makes it easier to get the teabags in), add two bags Earl Grey tea (any brand), let sit for approximately 3 hours (the more time you leave them in, the more intense the tea flavor), strain if there are any loose tea leaves in the liquid, chill, and serve. Seriously, that’s all there is to it. You can drink it on its own over ice, or use it to make Cold Toddies (feel free to rename as you see fit):

2oz Earl Grey tea vodka

juice of one lemon

2 teaspoons honey

soda water

Shake honey, lemon, and vodka in a cocktail shaker, pour over ice, and top with soda water. Honey takes awhile to dissolve, so you’ll have to shake well. Garnish with a lemon twist if you want to get all fancy with it. Happy mixing!

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Tour De New York

The cocktail shaker in our apartment has bee less active this summer due to some extensive traveling (all domestic, rather than exotic I’m afraid). I did manage to finally get my hands on some lavender to make a simple syrup. The recipe and drink suggestions will follow shortly. While in New York last week, my fiance and I were treated to a tour of the Big Apple’s finest cocktail establishments, courtesy of our friend Ryan. As everyone knows, the key to a woman’s heart is a fancy cocktail (or maybe that’s just me), and these places definitely won me over.

First stop was the hotel bar at the Crosby Street Hotel, which had the most artistic decor of the evening, with a wall of lamps made out of telephones.

Hello? Is anybody there?

I had a lemongrass-pear bellini, which was nice enough, but I definitely had drink envy of Sarah’s mojito. Ryan ordered a tequila-based cocktail called “Peppers and Peach,” which looked amazing, but spicy drinks are not my thing. Nor is tequila really.  Too many shots of Jose Cuervo in college, I guess. The most interesting drink in this bar was Justin’s “Kentucky Julius,” which consisted of Buffalo Trace bourbon, Liquor 43, orange juice, egg white, cinnamon simple, Lagunitas IPA, nutmeg, with the Lagunitas IPA served as a shot inside the empty egg shell floating on top of the glass like a little boat. Unfortunately, the egg whites prevented me from trying it, but he assured me it was damn tasty.

Not our actual cocktails. We drank them too fast to get photos.

Next stop was the The Bourgeois Pig, famous for its plushy chaise lounges and champagne punch. I ordered the Bergamont Toddy, which had Earl Grey-infused Lillet Blanc, lemon, and honey. All I can say is that my next infusion will be vodka with Earl Grey tea in an attempt to recreate this cocktail at home. Our friends ordered one of the champagne punch bowls. I think it had blackberries in it? In any case, it was delicious, but dangerous. The menus says it serves 2-4, but if two people finished it off by themselves, it might not be pretty. It arrived in a giant metal bowl with a giant round ice cube floating in the middle and some dainty Victorian crystal mugs with which to scoop the punch out of the bowl.

This is not one of my friends, nor is this our actual punch bowl. The lighting was too dim for photos. Or maybe we just forgot. In any case, ours looked just like this one, if you substitute a smiling redhead for the smiling blonde girl.

Even with four of us helping, we closed down the bar and stumbled out of there. Not content to let the night end, however, because damnit, this is New York! Bars here close at 4am, and it was only a mere 2:30. So what if it was a Wednesday night, there had to be something open. Luckily Ryan was captaining the ship and lead us to a place called Employees Only, which will be reviewed in another post because, well, this one is already too long. I also realized that I skipped one from the beginning of the night. Until next time, dear readers.

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Cocktail Hour at Home

My bourbon infusion was ready to go, so I decided to invite my lovely friend Brynn over for dinner and cocktails. Before we get into the drink recipes, let’s talk about the infusion by itself. How much do I love grapefruit? So much that I would write an ode to it, if I were any good at writing odes. The substitution of grapefruit zest for lemon and orange was a stroke of pure genius. The citrus did kind of overwhelm the vanilla, though, which was barely detectable. Next time I’d go with two vanilla beans instead of one. Still, it was quite nice, and could easily be a stand alone drink, chilled and served up. But where’s the fun in that?

No, my friends, the fun is all in the mixing, so on we go to the cocktails. The first concoction is something I’ve been making in various configurations for a while now, so it deserves a name. I hereby dub thee “The Savage Refresher.” Doesn’t that sound like something you want to drink?

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It consists of: bourbon (this time I used the infusion, but it’s also delicious with regular bourbon), muddled mint, bitters, and freshly squeezed grapefruit. You can add a little sugar or simple syrup if you like your drinks on the sweet side of tart. Muddle a handful of mint, sugar (if you want), 10ish drops of bitters, and a little ice in a shaker. Add 2 oz of bourbon (depending on how strong you like it), half a grapefruit (squeezed), and some more ice. Shake and serve up in a cocktail glass of your choosing.

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I squeeze the grapefruit by hand, but what I really want is a dedicated grapefruit squeezer like this one. Also, despite our arsenal of bar tools, we still don’t have a muddler at home, which makes me sad. Now you know what to get me for my birthday, right?

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The Savage Refreshers went perfectly with our dinner…I threw some mint in the salad too. Yummy!

Then it was on to post dinner conversation and round two. If you’re as obsessed with Mad Men as I am, you’ve probably had a hankering for an Old Fashioned sometime in the last few months. If you’re a purist, like Don Draper, here is a recipe for the classic Old Fashioned, complements of Esquire magazine. Most bars these days make it with and orange slice and a maraschino cherry, but apparently that’s a recent edition. Fascinating!

Seeing as how I’m all grapefruit obsessed at the moment, I use a grapefruit slice instead of the now-traditional orange slice, a smidge of grenadine, and regular sugar, because really, who has sugar cubes and maraschino cherries at home?

How to make a Grapefruit Old Fashioned: In a cocktail shaker, muddle a large slice of grapefruit, a teaspoon-ish of sugar, a dash or two of grenadine (one cherry’s worth if you can figure that out), and 3-4 dashes of bitters. Once that has been muddled, you add 2 oz or so of bourbon and shake. I like to top it off with another squeeze of grapefruit, but that’s just me. Traditionally, you’d serve this in a rocks glass over ice. What can I say, I’ve never been all that traditional.

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The photo may not look all that impressive, but trust me, they’re delicious. This cocktail makes a frequent appearance in our house. Typically while we’re watching Mad Men. In our fedoras.

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