The World's Greatest Mojito

In Sean's Ph.D. program, there lives a British lad named Harold Thorrington, all of 22 or 23 years of age. Of course his name is Harold Thorrington, for he is so very, very British, and of course his mates call him Harry. Harry Thorrington looks like the cuddly-button love child of Tony Blair and Paddington Bear. Really, his name is just so terribly goddamned British -- the very utterance of it makes me want to punch a crumpet.

Like many British blokes with few years and countless pints under their pudgy belts, Harry (who really is quite lovely and keeps me in stitches, I must say) only knows how to drink one way: More. Before the holidays, he confessed to me the three cocktails he'd ever consumed, at least to his recollection: a mojito, a Cosmopolitan and... oh, pish posh, I can't remember the third. Doesn't matter. The point is, I assured him he'd certainly had very bad versions of those drinks, wherever he'd had them, and I resolved to make him the World's Greatest versions soon.

I am the master mojito maker. Ask anyone who's ever had one of mine at The Royale in St. Louis. Facebook posts odes have been composed in humble praise of my mojitos! Texts are sent across thousands of wireless miles, expressing dismay that I am no longer located in the Central time zone, where I would be called upon to fashion the birthday mojitos of aging Midwesterners! And yet I've never mentioned my mojito mojo here. Why? Because mojito-making magic isn't held in high esteem as it was six-ish years ago. It's like bragging that you finally figured out all the lyrics to "I Like the Way You Move."

And yet! The fact remains that mojitos are fantastic when properly made -- "one of the world's greatest [Ed. note: Told ya!] and most refreshing cocktails," to quote one source -- and certainly their reputation as the unofficial cocktail of Cuba is buttressed by enough history to trump whatever flyspeck of uncoolness they might be yoked with at this particular nanomoment in pop culture. Fucking Hemingway himself once wrote, "It wasn't just a drink. It was a symbol of national pride." Harry Thorrington thinks you're a wanker if you don't agree.

The World's Greatest Mojito

(You can find recipes any and everywhere; this one comes straight from my heart, and muscle memory, during my time at The Royale)

1 1/2 to 2 ounces 10 Cane rum

About 6-10 fresh mint leaves, depending on size

Half a lime

About a tablespoon of simple syrup

Club soda

Grabbing the mint leaves as a bunch between thumb and forefinger, tear them once through and drop into the bottom of a highball glass. Squeeze lime onto leaves, then drop it into glass as well. Cover all of this with your tablespoon (more if needed) of simple syrup. Muddle, muddle, muddle! Fill with ice. Pour in rum. Fill with club soda. Give a gentle stir or two with a bar spoon or swizzle stick before drinking.

Tasting Notes

The details are most important when making a mojito. Different mojito recipes will call for a Collins glass, a soda glass, something fat and round, something tall and slim. I like a highball glass, by which I mean, a glass in which you'd be served a liquor, neat. (I don't mean a shot glass.) I don't make my mojitos like they're coolers to sip through a straw, I make them like they're cocktails meant to be sipped slowly. Through your lips. Like a grownup. Jesus.

I suggest 1 1/2 to 2 ounces of rum in case you do have to use a larger glass, or if you want a stronger-tasting mojito. Some people like to taste the rum more when they drink mojitos.

As I do with my mint juleps, I use just enough leaves to completely cover the bottom of the glass, and I tear them all exactly once. Some people say never to tear mint leaves because you're "bruising" them and this can actually sour the taste of the mint. I say, save that shit for Temple Grandin. (She developed cow-slaughtering systems to make beef taste better, see, by... you know what, forget it, probably a bad example.)

Anyway, what's important is that as soon as you get your leaves and lime down in the bottom of the glass, cover it all with the simple syrup so that all your flavor molecules stay trapped under a syrup blanket instead of wafting up and out of the glass. Muddle until you're sick of muddling; listen for the crunch of the leaves' veins, and muddle the lime to get more juice out of it. (That is the fun part.)

Don't use mint-infused simple syrup, because it's got a brownish-green tint that the white rum won't be able to mask and your cocktail will look like sewage. If you really insist on using mint-infused syrup, then make a special batch where you're letting the mint leaves steep in the syrup only until the second you start to see a coloration.

Use regular ice cubes.

Use 10 Cane white rum, or whatever white rum you like that's not Bacardi. Bacardi gives off a cheap aftertaste which can only be covered by overdoing it on the simple syrup. You don't want that. The 10 Cane is made from cane sugar (not cheapo molasses) and tastes very nice and clean.

Use fresh club soda!

In the end, you want the cocktail to have a cloudy look to it. This means you achieved a good ratio of ingredients and stirred a proper amount. Some mint leaves may inevitably climb up the  glass but the majority of your leaves should definitely remain at the bottom. Don't worry if the drink tastes sweeter as you go, but it also shouldn't taste all-alcohol on the first sip.

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The Kraken Old Fashioned (a.k.a Caribbean Christmas)

Guest post by Sean Lorre, PhoBlograpHusband.

While stocking up on booze in New Jersey over the holidays, this interesting little gem caught my eye...

I can't say particularly what drew me to The Kraken, if it was my childhood love of the original The Clash of the Titans (1981), my college-age infatuation with Captain Morgan Spiced Rum (we all make mistakes), or the $15.99 price tag; perhaps all of the above. Whatever the attraction, we needed a dark rum and the Kraken seemed like a fun little toy to experiment with. It promised the type of dark, molasses-y qualities of Myers or Goslings Black Seal at half the price and with a hint of spice that can be quite lovely when not overdone. I'm looking at you, Cap'n...

After reading the label, checking out the website and tasting it, I have to admit, I'm still a little confused by this product. Although it's not what you would consider a craft liquor -- it contains caramel color and "natural flavors" -- I found The Kraken rather enjoyable.  It has an interesting nose, similar to Captain Morgan but more subtle and complex. It has little of the depth I associate with black rum but is robust enough to hold up to most anything you want to throw at it -- or more accurately, into it. It calls itself imported (via Jersey City, I might add...) but is bottled and, I guess, blended in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, which I imagine is across the border from Johnsburg, Illinois. But I digress...

As Rose and I set out to concoct a few cocktails on New Year's Eve, I tasked myself with putting the Kraken to good use. As this was not the first project I took on for the night, and as my cocktail creativity usually declines as evenings wear on and inebriation mounts, and as I am finally aware of the fact that my late-night creations are usually not particularly inspired or even palatable, I opted to go with a variation on a theme. We had talked about Old Fashioneds earlier in the evening so I figured I would mine that particular vein for inspiration. Since I wasn't working with authentic ingredients, I went for the least old-school Old Fashioned recipe I knew. I have to say, for the booze in question, even though it would make Don Draper roll over in his grave, it worked really well.

The Kraken Old Fashioned

2 1/2 ounces Kraken Black Spiced Rum

1 ounce club soda

4 dashes Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters

2 half wheel orange slices

2 maraschino cherries

Muddle an orange slice, cherry and bitters at the bottom of an old fashioned glass. Fill glass with ice and add Kraken rum. Toss between the glass and a shaker tin to mix. Top with club soda and garnish with the other orange slice and cherry.

Tasting Notes

Although the recipe is based on the classic, the end result is closer to the Caribbean islands than a Manhattan speakeasy. I got a real tropical sense from the drink, while my cousin Chris said it "tasted like Christmas."  This could be a fun recipe to try with an assortment of aged and black rums and a variety of bitters as well. If you get to experimenting with the recipe, or with the Kraken, let us know!

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The Ghetto Mai Tai

As I spent part of last week mewling about, there's nada mucho booze left up in this maison, and I'm trying to hold off replenishing the stock until after the holidays. (My liver may be titanium-grade, but my bank account contains only tumbling tumbleweeds.) However, that's not the reason I invented the Ghetto Mai Tai. Like the Ghetto Julep, the Ghetto Mai Tai speaks not to my neurotic frivolity (although there is that) nor my proclivity towards the fabulously trashy (oh, don't go there, Mizz Hmm!). It's just about how some nights I enjoy achieving a mild pickling via a fun, supermarket ingredient-friendly, easy peasy glass of silly.

And isn't it nice to know that a Mai Tai, despite its orgeat and crushed ice and other lovely, particular fixings, can be respectably faked with just dark rum, Tropicana and a couple shakes of bitters? That final ingredient is what makes all the difference. Left to mingle by themselves, dark rum (light, too, I believe) and OJ result in an oddly bifurcated flavor dichotomy of dark-rum-over-here, orange-syrupy-sweetness-over-there. It's always struck me as weird, because on paper, orange and rum, which grew up practically down the street from one another, seem totes MFEO. But together in a glass, they are about as appealing as a vodka and Coke.

(That's another one that needs to be studied. How can the world's two most lowest-common-denominator beverages taste so off-putting together? It's tantamount to the characters on "Friends" not liking Hootie and the Blowfish. Which I happen to know for a fact they do.)

The bitters add a lovely darkness to the flavors inside the glass. Insert funny end of blog post here. (Whoops, mild pickling has been achieved...)

The Ghetto Mai Tai

2 ounces Rhum Barbancourt

2 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters and/or Angostura Bitters

Tropicana orange juice, "No Pulp" (unless you like "Some Pulp" or "Lots of Pulp," in which case, ick)

In true ghetto style, don't bother shaking this concoction in an ice-filled shaker before straining it into your glass. Just combine all ingredients in an ice-filled highball, stir with coffee swizzle, index finger, teaspoon, what have you, and slurp up.

Tasting Notes

I prefer this with two dashes of the Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters. The PhoBlograpHusband prefers Angostura. The former lends a whiff of cinnamon to the glass, while the latter imparts licorice-like grace notes. You can do one dash of each kind if you can't decide.

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The Green Rhum Thumb

Do not attempt this at home. This is the work of a mad genius. Do you have absolutely nothing to do for the next month and want to devote every minute of your days to concocting ONE DRINK TO RULE THEM ALL??!?

The previous sentences are ones I've brainstormed over the past few weeks, trying to figure out how the hell I'm gonna blog about Tony Galdes' entry in last month's Montreal Bar vs Chef. I'm still not sure how to explain to you what I'm about to explain to you.

Tony was bartending at LAB over the summer. Stopped to go back to school. He is 21 years old. I REPEAT: He is 21 years old. He was born in 1990. I will give you all a moment to collectively sigh, go inspect your gray hairs in the bathroom mirror, and wonder if you've ever accomplished anything as massive and brilliant as Tony's Green Rhum Thumb.

The only thing I find 21-years-old about Tony, who is really outgoing and funny, is that he chose to infuse his cocktail's contest-mandated one ounce of Appleton Estate Reserve rum with weed. Is this illegal? I mean, probably, but in Quebec it's also illegal to infuse alcohol with, like, a fucking lemon peel, so fuck it. (Contestants were allowed to infuse anything they wanted for their recipes, as these drinks were not being sold to the public.)

The only thing I can think of to reference the Green Rhum Thumb's degree of multilayered difficulty (perhaps even its Rube Goldberg-ishness? A quality I'd tried to avoid in my Bar vs. Chef cocktail and yes I do feel a little sheepish about that now) is the St. Louis Arch, which was architecturally so unheard-of in its day that it couldn't be built until new types of construction equipment were first invented to make its construction possible. In order to make a Green Rhum Thumb, you first have to make all five ingredients that go into making a Green Rhum Thumb.

Oh yeah, you also need a CO2 cartridge, which you're gonna load into your Perlini shaker, which is designed to instantly carbonate beverages. This is a shaker that didn't even exist until this past summer and costs $100 -- just for the shaker. It's $200 for the deluxe start-up kit that comes with a bunch of cartridges, a pressurizer that allows you to reuse the cartridges, and for fuck's sake, a flash drive. I have no idea what the flash drive is for.

The Green Rhum Thumb

1 ounce orange-infused Appleton Reserve Rum

1 ounce weed-infused Appleton Reserve Rum

1/4 ounce Allspice gastric

1/2 ounce caramelized banana syrup

2 barspoons Blue Mountain Coffee bitters

Pour all ingredients in a Perlini Shaker, add ice, close the shaker, put in CO2 cartridge, shake, let rest for 30 seconds then pour into a champagne flute. Garnish with a slice of banana and a weed leaf.

Tasting Notes

Sounds simple, the above does, n'est-ce pas? You can read up on orange infusions here. I am not going to tell you how to infuse rum with weed because my mom reads this blog sometimes. As for the final three ingredients...

Allspice gastric:

1 1/4 cup lemon juice

1 1/4 cup water

2 1/2 cups cane sugar

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup allspice

1 cup pink grapefruit juice

Melt the sugar on medium temperature with the water and lemon juice. Once melted, add the vinegar and allspice and gradually put in the grapefruit juice. Keep heat on until most of the bubbles disappear. Chill and filter twice, once with a regular strainer to take out the big chunks, and then with a Brita filter to keep the small particles out.

Caramelized banana syrup :

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

6 bananas, sliced

1 cup cane sugar

1 cup water

Put the butter and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a pan until it starts caramelizing. Add the bananas until they get a nice roast, then add the rest of the sugar along with the water. Let simmer until the bananas start to fall apart, then chill. Once cold, strain through a cheesecloth to get a nice clear syrup. (Says Tony: "You can keep the rest of the bananas to put on your toasts in the morning!")

Blue Mountain Coffee Bitters:

1 750ml bottle Appleton Estate V/X

3 teaspoons white cardamom

3 teaspoons coriander seeds

2 teaspoons angelic leaves

1 cinnamon stick, crushed

2 cloves, crushed

1 nutmeg, crushed

1 star anise, crushed

1 wormwood stick

1 Tonka bean, crushed

3 teaspoons Allspice

6 teaspoons Blue Mountain Coffee, crushed

6 teaspoons Blue Mountain Coffee, uncrushed

Dried peels from one Mandarin, one orange, one lemon, one lime

3/4 cup simple syrup, made with equal parts sugar and water

Dry the peels of the citrus for 4-5 days in the sun then put it with the rest of the dry ingredients in a Mason jar with the Appleton Estate V/X. Shake at least once a day for 10-15 seconds and keep at room temperature in a dark place (or put black tape around the Mason jar). After 3 weeks, add the simple syrup then refrigerate for a week, always shaking at least once a day.

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The Antithesis (L'antithese)

I've been trying to recall a good example of how much of a goody-two-shoes I was during my grade-school days. Kids called me "the A girl," in second grade I wrote a short story about a botanist, and once during a 7th-grade-wide trivia competition, I avoided elimination by successfully (and accurately, ahem) convincing the MC (my math teacher, I believe) that a peanut is, in fact, a legume. Take that, coolness!

Try as I might, though, I can't think of anything nerdy enough to compare to the eight-page dossier presented by my friend and Le LAB bartender Gabrielle to the panel of judges at Montreal Bar vs. Chef, her completely unrequired, written dissertation for the cocktail that, as it turned out, took first place. (Eight pages = first place. Must remember that for next time.)

In the weeks before the competition, Gabrielle told me she was considering a cocktail on the theme of Quebec ingredients. I'd actually toyed with the idea, too, until it became apparent that, beyond maple syrup and certain fruits (Quebec strawberries NOM), I didn't know enough to put them to best use. Really, anything I could've come up with would've been put to shame by Gabrielle's creation.

I think it's clear that Gab won because her cocktail was elegantly simple in presentation yet wildly complex in taste, with an impressively reasoned philosophy behind each ingredient:

Appleton Reserve Rum: Because they were sponsoring the contest, a-doy.

Gin Ungava: Made near Montreal in the touristy Eastern Townships using local herbs, "it brings to my cocktail that which the rum cannot: freshness, herbaceousness, acidity. Complementing the rum, it cannot offer a more beautiful contrast."

San Perrino Vermouth, a red-apple vermouth made just outside the city at la Maison des Futailles: "This aperitif is soft on the palate with a beautiful acidity and depth... It brings a balance between my spirits."

Labrador tea, aka Hudson's Bay or Indian tea, another Canadian specialty: "I wanted to reinforce the astringency of my recipe, and at the same time, balance it out."

Maple water: "To sweeten my recipe, I chose to use maple. I made a maple water (much less sweet than the syrup). I wanted to create a relatively dry cocktail, while maintaining a subtle maple flavor."

Lemon juice: "To achieve the perfect balance."

Homemade apple bitters: "I chose Angostura bitters as a base because I appreciate the character and depth it brings to the rum."

Clearly, Gab gets an A++ (or a check-plus-plus, remember those?) -- I mean, she had different ingredients going on down to the quarter-ounce. And, save the Angostura, she really did manage to keep all of her ingredients, alcoholic ou non, local.

In actuality, Gab gets a trip for two to Jamaica, which was the first-place prize. And, of course, when the A++ girl throws off the curve for the rest of us underachievers, what we get is homework. So pay attention, class! This recipe's involved. You may have to stay late.

The Antithesis

1 ounce Appleton Reserve Rum

1/2 ounce Gin Ungava

1/4 ounce San Perrino vermouth

1/2 ounce Labrador tea

1/4 ounce maple water

1 dash freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 dashes homemade apple bitters

Apple slices, to garnish

Put all ingredients in a chilled mixing glass, add ice and stir thoroughly. Serve in a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a pair of apple slices.

Tasting Notes

To make the homemade apple bitters, I'm gonna give it to you straight from the future Jamaican tourist's mouth, which came out of said mouth in the form of milliliters. (Convert to ounces here.): Mix together 100 ml Angostura bitters, 45 ml apple brandy (she used Michel Jodoin), 30 ml Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters, 30 ml Absinthe 55 and 15 ml smoked bitters. Cut up three-quarters of a Granny Smith apple into small cubes and add to the mixture. Gently mash apples with a pestle. Let steep for three weeks in a dark place. Filter before using.

Making maple water: You're basically making a maple simple syrup by boiling down equal parts water and pure, granulated maple sugar. Gab told me she also steeped some juniper berries while this mixture cooked down. Because she is an extra credit-bogarting geek. Just kidding.

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