The Pizza Highball

This one's been on my bucket list (it's a champagne bucket, a-doy) ever since the PhoBlograpHusband and I date-nighted at one of New York Vintners' pizza-and-wine tastings: Come up with a cocktail that goes with pizza. A potable that pairs reliably with a slice or a pie -- why/how is this not a thing?

The obvious answer: Because a nice glass of red ain't broke, so why invent something to fix it? Backup answer: Pizza likewise does nicely with crisp Pilsners and not-too-hoppy IPAs. And thirdly, there's something about a pizza cocktail that just doesn't sound quite right, even to a boozehound like me. Is it that cocktails are meant for sipping while pizza's meant for houncing? Do I have some unfounded fear that the cocktail's going to reach room temperature before I'm done eating? (When I eat pizza, I eat lots of pizza.) Is it the bread, maybe, that eating large quantities of crust just doesn't feel right with a liquor accompaniment. Is a liquor/'za pairing all too much grain, like eating the meat and the egg of a chicken at the same meal? WTF IS IT??!?

Whatever the seemingly insurmountable conundrum -- and really, for a long while I couldn't think of an entry point for the Pizza Cocktail other than Lambrusco -- I got help big time from the soda aisle at my Montreal supermarket, where I found Brio Chinotto, a quinine-tinged, it's-a-Canadian-thing cola. The label suggests enjoying Brio "simply on ice with a slice of lemon, or add zing by mixing Brio with vodka or rum. Fantastic with pizza!" According to my rudimentary Googling, chinotto is a type of cola found in Italy, while Brio is the brand name of that style of cola as sold in Canada; on this blog, a commenter claims that pizza and Brio is a traditional Canadian-Italian weekend treat.

So my cocktail would be a highball. Now I've said before that I have no formula, no hard and fast rules for how I develop my recipes, but even I admit that when this one manifested in my skull, I tried to ignore my every instinct, all of which were shouting at me, "Bourbon and gin! Yes, together!" I don't know why. Call me the Long Island Ice Tea Medium. The two vermouths I clearly chose because I want every cocktail I drink to be a Manhattan.

All of those ingredients plus Brio equaled something a lot like plain cola (albeit, ahem, a homemade cola). Then came the homemade oregano shrub syrup. I'll pause for a moment while you roll your eyes at the dreadful of-course-oregano-ness of it all (gosh, Rose, how about a pepperoni rind garnish? pfffttt...) but it did make the difference. Sean described the result as "an herbaceous cream soda and a stiff drink at the same time." Not even a 99-cent slice can beat that.

The Pizza Highball

3/4 ounces Heaven Hill Bourbon

3/4 ounces Bombay Dry Gin

1/4 ounce Stock Sweet Vermouth

1/4 ounce Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth

1/2 ounce oregano shrub syrup

Brio Chinotto, to fill

Combine liquors and syrup in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into ice-filled highball. Top with Brio Chinotto.

Tasting Notes

My recipe for oregano shrub syrup, paraphrasing the raspberry shrub syrup recipe published in Eric Felten's How's Your Drink?: Whisk a cup each of water and sugar together at a boil. Reduce heat for a few minutes, add a cup of fresh oregano (I'd tear up the leaves beforehand) and stir occasionally for about 10 minutes. Add 2 cups white wine vinegar and bring to a boil for two minutes. Strain, cool and refrigerate or freeze (it lasts several months if you do the latter).

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The Pregnant Pause

It's been un longtemps and a day since I've posted, which means lots to catch up on even if you're one of my kindly regular readers -- let alone a newbie gamely bouncing on the blogwagon thanks to my recent Saveur Best Cocktail Blog nom (#believethatscalledahumblebrag #hinewbies).

Everything you need to know about my truancy, as well as my all-telling *general*outlook*on*life*, you can glean from the following statement: I feel acutely guilty that, thanks to uterus-subletting fetus, I'm not inclined to drink for you guys as much as I once did. Isn't it awful how I'm letting y'all down, spending my current pregnancy largely away from alcohol? Without a coupe in her claw, who is this Blogtender personbot?

Talking like a normal now... I'm totes pregs! A girl is due in August. I drink a lot of nonalcoholic beer these days (it takes the edge off, it really does). I also allow myself one sip per cocktail ordered by the PhoBlograpHusband whenever we're out, and when out at restaurants with ace bartenders, I ask them to mix me up a mocktail of my own.

At MEDIAnoche in St. Louis (my old stomping ground, was there in February), one bartender complied with a lemon juice-ginger syrup concoction that was damn fine and delightful. I found myself relishing its memory (and replicating it in pic below) as if it were a real, actual drink. I hadn't caught every move he'd made in its construction; was it really just lemon juice and ginger syrup? I might have tasted fizz. At least mocktails are still getting my mixology mojo going, right? At least I still have that?

FYI, I have no plans to turn this blog dry for the next few months. My one-sip rule stands for the full-hooch tipples I'll continue to roll out here. Is that controversial? If so, let some modern-day Carry Nation twist up her bloomers, cause a stink online, and pave the way for my appearance on Anderson touting my hedonistic child-ruining. Cocktail-book deal to follow, natch.

Having said that, today's cmocktail is, in fact, without alcohol. I started with that lemon-ginger base and wanted to see what I could work up from there. Turns out it was the sprightly kick of fresh ginger that felt like fizz, so no soda needed, but the recipe I drafted this weekend did include grapefruit soda and a quick hit of Liber & Co. Spiced Tonic Syrup, which I was kindly sent as a review sample several weeks back and do recommend as a quirky, comfortably priced change of pace from bitters. (Think Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters, with a more concentrated flavor and a quinine-y finish, bought at a half-off sale.)

Impregnate the Pregnant Pause with light or dark rum or tequila, or gin, or even bourbon. I think this recipe's got legs, versatility-wise, and damn if it's not refreshing as all get-out. Maybe not as refreshing as the half-gallon of mint chip I downed last week, but that's just the expectation talking.

The Pregnant Pause

1 1/2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 ounce ginger-infused simple syrup

1/4 teaspoon Liber & Co. Spiced Tonic Syrup

Grapefruit soda, to fill

Cucumber wheel and rosemary sprig, to garnish

1 1/2 ounces booze of choice, to taste (optional)

Combine juice, syrups and liquor, if including, in ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into a Pilsner glass over ice. Top with grapefruit soda. Garnish with cucumber and rosemary.

Tasting Notes

My grapefruit soda came from SodaStream. It's one of the little flavor-adding packets you get when you buy the start-up kit. FWIW, I only used half the packet and the soda turns out just as flavorful and (I'm assuming) not as sweet.

As I suggested above, swap in Fee Brothers Barrel Aged Whiskey Bitters for the tonic syrup, or even Angostura. You basically just want a couple dashes (maybe 2 or 3 to taste) of something that plays against the other flavors.

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The Champagne Julep

I haven't told you yet how I spent my New Year's Eve, have I? Silly me. You're likely kvetching to know what a pretend professional drinker does on Alcoholics' Feast Day. (It's in the Bible, look it up.)

Our evening began early-ish, in the five o'clock hour (it's not just a blog, it's a thing you can do!), with the best pizza in the world and a list of champagne cocktails to make. Earlier, we'd picked up a cheapo bottle of bubbles, and of course to get every penny's worth of the $9.97 you just spent on lowercase-c champagne so embarrassingly embarrassing that I refuse to even mention it by name here, you have to plan for several fizzy drinks at once.

The recipe for this Champagne Julep came out of a cocktail book -- one of the several belonging to Sean's cousins, with whom we crashed over the holidays; it's a whole family of drinkers (what can I say, I know how to pick first husbands) -- but I wish that weren't the case. Because if ever there were a person put on Earth for the purpose of whimsy-ing up a recipe like this off the top of her dainty, demented head, it is me. Dammit, the Champagne Julep should dance nightly in my dreams. "Champagne Julep concocter" is what my tombstone should one day read, except with one word misspelled and no money left in my estate to fix it. Has the past year and change instilled not one inkling in me towards total julep brilliance?

Credit, though: It's a damn good recipe. Simple to the point of self-evident, as any worthwhile julep recipe oughta be. The resulting drink likewise reads organically on the palate. Picture in your mind what a fizzy mint julep might taste like, and so it does. Tastes fun, no?

The Champagne Julep

(From The Complete Book of Mixed Drinks: More Than 1000 Alcoholic and Nonalcoholic Cocktails, by Anthony Dias Blue, with some adjustments and finesses)

About 3 ounces Champagne or sparkling white wine

1 1/2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon

4 large mint leaves

1/2 to 1 teaspoon simple syrup (to taste)

Crushed ice

Bunch the mint leaves between thumb and forefinger and give one good tear through the middle of the leaves. Drop into bottom of a tall Collins glass and pour in simple syrup on top, just enough to cover leaves. Muddle well. Add ice roughly to fill glass. Pour in bourbon. Stir very briefly. If necessary/desired, put in more ice at this step to refill to top. Top off with Champagne. Once again, stir briefly. Taste and top off with more simple syrup if desired. Garnish with mint sprig.

Tasting Notes

Obviously, use the best bubbly you can afford. Also, if you're going to go with a wheated (i.e. sweeter) bourbon like Buffalo Trace or Maker's Mark, I'd recommend yin-yanging with a dry champagne. On the flip side, I bet this would taste great with a rye whiskey and a sweet sparkler.

I go into more detail about my little physical tricks I use to properly mix a julep in my World's Greatest Mint Julep post, if you care to read it. Basically, although here I suggest stirring briefly to agitate the drink, my most preferred method of mixing a julep is to make little downward stabbing motions in the glass with a swizzle stick.

I also advocate taking your mint sprig by the stem in one hand and giving it a few smacks against the open palm of your other hand. You'll see this done at high-end cocktail places a lot; it's great for releasing the leaves' aroma.

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The Fall Classic

This cocktail comes via SeriousEats.com, courtesy of Gramercy Tavern in New York. While I needed to make a few detours around the restaurant's recipe in order to tailor it to my diminishing stock, it also calls for certain ingredients I've got too much of lurking around my post-Thanksgiving fridge, so yay! (In case you haven't noticed, this week on the blog is unofficially Make Use of T'giving Leftovers Week.)

What I was happy to have reason to use was my fresh thyme. Someday, I swear, I'm going to construct the world's most impressive year-round herb garden (complete with shoe-organizer mini-plots!), but until then, I find myself all too often buying fresh herbs in presized packages, using a few sprigs for one recipe, then watching the rest wilt in the crisper. Not this time, Mother Nature! Half of my leftover thyme went into an infusion (reveal date TBD); the rest made the thyme syrup for the Fall Classic.

This cocktail also calls for fresh apple cider, but instead I swapped in apple-peel tea. Wuh huh? you ask, stupefied and bewildermazed. See, soon after I arrived in Canada, I decided that living here meant crafting a more wholesome and virtuous existence. Ergo, I joined the on-campus CSA at McGill. Now I get pounds of apples every week, so I make loads of applesauce. First I made it skins-on, because I figured, why bother peeling all those apples only to throw away all those peels? Then I read that Jacques Pepin recommends steeping the peels for tea. It's totes easy -- fresh peels covered in a saucepan with water, a few shakes of lemon juice, perhaps a cinnamon stick, boil 10 minutes -- and the tea comes out a totes adorbs shade of princessy pink. (Pepin recommends oven-drying the peels first, but I kept burning them so I go with this recipe.) Apple peel tea's got sweetness and tartness but none of cider's bite, and every time I drink some of it, I find myself smiling like an idiot. It's just got such a unique, comforting, soft, fresh sweetness about it. It's Happytime Tea, see!

The Fall Classic

(Adapted from Gramercy Tavern, as found on SeriousEats.com)

1 ounce Buffalo Trace Bourbon

1 ounce Busnel Fine Calvados

1 ounce apple-peel tea

1/2 ounce thyme syrup

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Apple slice, thyme sprig or lemon peel, to garnish

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker, shake vigorously, strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish as you like.

Tasting Notes

The original recipe calls for an ounce of either Calvados or Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy, FYI. It also called for making the thyme syrup with equal parts sugar and water along with four fresh thyme sprigs. I halved the sugar because, especially with an herb-based simple syrup, I just like to make sure that the herbaceousness really comes through.

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The Maple Mint Fizz

How did I never manage to invent the Maple Mint Fizz myself? Why did I have to move to Montreal to discover it?

The answer to the first question is: I did come close with the Martelorre (Maker's, lemon, mint, ginger beer). To answer my second question: Because Le LAB is where everything wonderful, like Maple Mint Fizzes, happens, and also because only in Canada would "our variation of the mojito" include maple syrup.

As a north-of-the-border mojito substitute, the Maple Mint Fizz (I love saying those three words together!) was rotated off LAB's menu with the onset of autumn. But as a south-of-the-border expat, I find fall to be the perfect time to indulge in maple-flavored treats, even if they also call for summertime-y limes and mint leaves.

The lime, in fact, is what makes this cocktail for me, imparting a great, sourtastic, unexpected twist of je-ne-say-wha? If I had ever thought to invent this drink, I'm not sure I would've come up with the lime part. Damn it, LAB, you've done it again.

The Maple Mint Fizz

(Adapted from Le LAB)

2 ounces Maker's Mark bourbon

7-Up

A small handful of mint leaves

A splash or two of lime juice

A splash or two of maple syrup

Take several mint leaves, tear once, and drop into the bottom of a Collins glass. Pour splash of lime juice on top, then cover the whole thing with just-enough maple syrup. Muddle. Fill glass with ice, add Maker's Mark and fill with 7-Up.

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