The Summertime Smash

The Summertime Smash

Is it summer finally? Are we there yet, Mother Nature?

Up here in the tundra Montreal, the warm weather has been *such* a tease lately. We've had one of those springs where two days of delightful, sun-dappled, sleeve-shedding weather are followed by a near-week of chilly, damp, Debbie Downer-weather.

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The Applejack Saze-wack

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Some people discover pencillin. Others spill battery acid and then somehow, suddenly, they've invented the phone. Me? I improvise Sazeracs with applejack brandy.

While riffling through my ever-beloved Difford's Encyclopedia of Cocktails recently, I was stopped dead in my tracks by Simon Difford's recipe for a Sazerac. Ask any goomba how to make a classic one and you'll be told rye whiskey, bitters (Peychaud's, sometimes Angostura too), a sugar cube, and an old-fashioned glass coated with absinthe. Well, that's just not good enough for Monsieur Lord Simon Difford, Esq., Ph.D. VII...

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I know I reference Simon's namesake book a lot, and as a straight-up, serious-minded reference tome it practically cannot be beat. But I'm starting to think Simon Difford might be part peacock. He's quite the fancy lad; you can tell from his recipe write-ups, with their ostentatious notations. Oftentimes he'll call for "chilled mineral water (omit if wet ice)" which I will admit to you, my fellow peanut-gallery proletariats, I just don't get. Is Simon McFoppishstein making his cocktails with dry ice? Does he live in a space colony?

Rather than rye, Master Simon's Sazerac employs a mix of cognac and bourbon -- cognac because Mr. Peychaud often mixed his eponymous bitters with brandy, and bourbon "as is more communally used to make this drink today." (Um, no, Knight of OnePercentershire; us down here in Proleville use rye, not bourbon, and by the way, the word is commonly.)

Because I am a class warrior, I decided to take on Difford's rococo Sazerac. (Never mind that I've yet to craft an actual -- ahem, I'm sorry, communal -- Sazerac for this blog.) Then I discovered gravity our cognac had been 86'd by a PhoBlograpHusband who'd taken to secret brandy nightcaps as of late. So I grabbed the neck of my next-closest bottle: Applejack brandy.

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My new favorite way to describe bourbon-based cocktails is chewy, and the Applejack Saze-wack is like the freaking caramel nougat of bourbon-based cocktails: Mondo chewy. Nay, even rococo chewy. Freaking Baroque chewy. It's absolutely delish -- well-balanced, intriguing -- and my new favorite mistake.

The Applejack Saze-wack

(A riff on Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D.'s Simon Difford's Sazerac as found in his book on page 367)

2 ounces Laird's Applejack Brandy

2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon

1 ounce Lucid absinthe

1 ounce simple syrup

3 dashes Peychaud's bitters

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine brandy, bourbon, simple syrup and both bitters in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled, absinthe-coated highball, rocks or old-fashioned glass.

Tasting Notes

I will concede to Mr. Difford that his method for coating a glass with absinthe is preferable to the norm. Rather than rolling a splash of absinthe around the interior of a glass by hand, he simply fills the glass with ice, pours in his absinthe, then fills with cold water. (Or, as he insists upon, "chilled mineral water.") Then he lets that stand while preparing the cocktail. In this way, you can chill and coat the glass at the same time. Point, Difford! En garde!

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The Clifton Heights

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Hey, bourbon face! Are you as cray-cray in love with bourbon as this blotto besotted bourbonperson is? Do you eat, drink dream drink and sleep drink bourbon? Have you considered naming a pet and/or child Bourbon?

Then have I got a cocktail for you! Like me, you're probably always on the hunt for yet another way to enjoy your bourbon. After all, just because you can't spell "Manhattans" without "man" doesn't mean man should live on Manhattans alone! So here's what you're gonna do. You're gonna add pineapple juice to your Manhattan.

I'll wait a moment for you to finish going pppppppppppffffffffttttttttttttttttt... wuhhhhhh?

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A bourbon Manhattan with pineapple juice is what we at The Royale Food & Spirits (my old muddling ground) used to call The Clifton Heights. The Royale's cocktail menu named a drink for each of the city's 28 wards, and I liked Clifton Heights the drink so much, I even went in my car once and hunted down Clifton Heights, the tucked-away, little-known nabe. Just as it was described in its bit of verbiage on The Royale's original cocktail menu (beautifully penned by Tim O'Connell, truly the Gateway City's greatest nonprofessional cocktailian), Clifton Heights is leafy and reclusive; Clifton Heights the cocktail was  similarly the perfect potable for contemplation.

Now, when I say "we" at The Royale called it the Clifton Heights, who I'm really talking about is me and those puzzled patrons who listened politely as this wackadoo, way-over-enthused barmaid tried to sell them on the rounded, mellow wondrousness of this cocktail. I get it; it sounds weird at best, icky at worst. But please, do give it a try. I have loved this cocktail every time I've had it, and I've had it at home dozens of times (as well as at many bars where I've asked the bartender to mix it up for me).

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I know that you hear pineapple juice and you think of something very tart, perhaps too sugary, maybe even a silly-tiki-tini sort of thing. But the pineapple juice here does not overpower the other three ingredients. In fact, it's one of those cocktails that becomes more than the sum of its parts. If I'd had my first Clifton Heights while blindfolded, I would have done a very bad job of guessing what was in it. (The sign of a good recipe, no?)

If it helps make it sound more palatable, the Clifton Heights is really just an other-side-of-the-Rorschach-test cousin to The Algonquin, with bourbon instead of rye and sweet instead of dry vermouth.

So what are you waiting for? Order now!

The Clifton Heights

(Based on how I remember making it at The Royale Food & Spirits in St. Louis)

2 ounces Buffalo Trace

3/4 ounce Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

1 ounce pineapple juice, preferably freshly squeezed

Maraschino cherry, to garnish (optional)

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish if so desired.

Tasting Notes

I've had a Clifton Heights made with both fresh pineapple juice and canned. Obviously fresh is always best, but the one-ounce measurement I suggest here will work with either.

If you look at the first pic in this post, you'll see lotsa little ice floes. I love ice-floes drinks! (That means ones where you shake 'em so hard, your ice cubes break down a bit and some floes are freed through the strainer and into the drink.) I think ice floes are so much fun and a good indicator that you've shaken your drink strenuously enough.

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The Expat

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Fitting as it may be, I did not name this cocktail.

Lantern's Keep did. Lantern's Keep being a swankadoodle cocktail spot inside NYC's Iroquois Hotel on West 44th Street. I've never visited there, but I'm already kinda in love with the place just based on its website, where it describes itself as "a salon devoted to the art and enjoyment of great cocktails. This secretive salon [seems to be a speakeasy-style place located off the hotel lobby, hence the need for the lantern] is already luring cocktail aficionados in and transporting them back to a turn-of-the-century Parisian salon." Which immediately makes me think: Midnight in Paris! C'est l'age d'or, Marion Cotillard! I want in!

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Now what I liked about this cocktail right off the bat -- before I even tasted or tried making it, when I'd only read about it in Life & Style Magazine (um, which I was reading... on a plane? While getting a mani-pedi? Let's go with that one) -- was its simplicity. The more I experiment with cocktails, the more I appreciate those that get to the point, that express an intention and just get over themselves and get on with it already in as few ingredients as possible.

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The L&S write-up didn't mention how much Angostura to use, so I started with one dash. I mixed that up, and in one sip I went to my happy place; immediately, visual pictures of me cozied up in alluringly dim cocktail boites came to mind. The PhoBlograpHusband tried it and felt it had a too-sweet-bordering-on-cloying finish, so I made another with two dashes of bitters. The result was simultaneously a) weirdly muted, b) all tartness with no anchoring bottom note, c) completely devoid of any sort of finish at all.

It's amazing how much a quarter-ounce of syrup, or a single dash of bitters, really matters in a cocktail.

The Expat

(based on Lantern's Keep's recipe as printed in Life & Style)

2 ounces Buffalo Trace

1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

3/4 ounce simple syrup

1 dash Angostura bitters

Mint sprig, to garnish

Combine liquid ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Give your mint sprig a smack and then arrange it atop the drink to garnish.

Tasting Notes

Let me explain, if necessary,what I just wrote about the mint sprig slap. This is something commonly done at your better cocktail lounges and I've been remiss not mentioning it here. The mint's not just something pretty to look at or a pop of contrasting color; it really does make a difference in your overall enjoyment of The Expat if you get that whiff of mint up the shnozz right as you're taking a sip. By smacking the mint, you get an extra release of those minterrific notes. You're literally smacking the mint outta that mint. So hold your sprig by the stem with one hand and give it a thwap! against the open palm of your other hand.

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The Bourbon Bloody Caesar

Are Bloody Caesars a thing where you live? As in, a Bloody Mary that swaps in Clamato for toe-mah-toe juice? They seem to be a thing in Montreal -- or all of Canada -- and I had my first (virgin) one last weekend at Cafe Sardine (to celebrate my Saveur best-blog nom; vote, won't you?). Let me rhapsodize on this place for a sec before I continue:

The PhoBlograpHusband and I live in the Plateau, adjacent to Mile End, which is the neighborhood with restaurants more our speed. Eating out in Montreal is caustically 'spensive, I find, and I say this having moved here from New York. The difference is, it's just as easy to find really good cheap food in New York (slice at Joe's, Corner Bistro burger, zomg patacones) as it is pricey food. So far, that hasn't been the case for us in Mtl/Le Plateau, but the Mile End boasts numerous little boites serving interesting little plates where you can leave sated (not stuffed) for under $100 including tax(es) and tip. We have learned to consider that a bargain.

So our friend Tao had recommended Cafe Sardine and we went there Friday night, no reservation, easily seated right away. By its looks, this was my kind of place: open kitchen, salvaged-everything furnishings, and all-male staff, one more closely resembling a member of Vampire Weekend than the last. As has become my custom, I asked if the bartender (a friend of Tao's) would make me any kind of mocktail. And what I got was the aforementioned virgin Bloody Caesar.

So good! So, like, meaty and chewy and salty/briny/acidic/spicy and practically a meal in itself, especially garnished as it was with some skewered pickled-beet chunks. (Beet juice is now on my to-cocktail list; hopefully that'll come soon.)

Coincidentally, one time when we were buying Maker's Mark up here, the bottle came with a hangtagged recipe for the Maker's Mark Bloody Caesar, so on Sunday Sean and I used that recipe as a launching pad for a Bloody Caesar tailored to our liking.

The Bourbon Bloody Caesar

(Adapted from the above-pictured promotional literature once attached to a bottle of Maker's Mark)

1 1/2 ounces Heaven Hill Bourbon

5 dashes Frank's Red Hot

2 dashes soy sauce

Clamato, to fill

Fresh black pepper

Colonel De's New Bay seasoning

Lemon and cucumber slices, to garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients plus black pepper in a tall, ice-filled glass. Dump all contents into a shaker and shake vigorously. Set shaker aside for a moment while you rim your glass with New Bay and refill it with fresh ice. Strain drink back into glass and enjoy.

Tasting Notes

Yes, that's a bottle of Buffalo Trace in one of the pics above, but it contains Heaven Hill, which I believe Sean transferred into there to somehow feel better about his station in life. Obviously, any bourbon will do, and I'd recommend not going any more top-shelf than Maker's/Buffalo.

Why all the glass-to-shaker-to-glass hoopla? So's your "fill" portion of Clamato is accurate. Not even a pregnant lady wants a weak Bloody Caesar.

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